Operational problems caused a spill of partially treated wastewater into Calls Creek from the Oconee County wastewater treatment plant of that name located just north of Watkinsville, the county announced this (Thursday) morning.
The partially treated release occurred at approximately 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 9, according to the statement from Wayne Haynie, director of the county’s Water Resources Department, previously called the Utility Department.
An estimated 24,000 gallons of wastewater that exceeded permit limits for total suspended solids was released from the plant’s discharge pipe into Calls Creek, Haynie’s statement said.
The spill is classified by the Georgia Environment Protection Division as “major,” and the county notified the EPD as well as the county Environmental Health Department, according to the statement.
Cause Of Problem
In an email message sent to me late today explaining the cause of the spill, Haynie said “It appears an episode of peak flow washed solids (TSS) out of one of the clarifiers.”
|Haynie At Meeting In 2016|
TSS stands for total suspended solids.
The county is building a replacement plant next to the existing Calls Creek facility, and Haynie said “Until the new plant is commissioned, we’re nursing the membranes and the 3 undersized clarifiers.”
The new plant will phase out the use of membranes in favor of more traditional treatment processes.
“Cold weather has its effects on several areas of the plant also,” Haynie added.
Sack Of Flour
Haynie said “The term ‘major spill’ is slightly misleading in this situation.”
“Just for some perspective,” he said. “It is interesting that we’re talking about approximately 5 pounds of solids above the normal mass contained in a million gallons of flow—equating to a sack of flour.”
At 4:30 p.m. the county updated its public notice on the spill from the one sent out this morning to include the specification that the partially treated wastewater reaching Calls Creek was “carrying an estimated 5 pounds of solids above the permitted discharge.”
“The flow was disinfected as always by the UV system,” Haynie said in his email message to me.
Effluent from the plant is treated with ultraviolet light, or electromagnetic radiation, Haynie noted.
“We did not exceed the BOD limit (waste strength),” he added. BOD refers to biochemical oxygen demand.
Following the identification of the problem the county performed water quality sampling in Calls Creek downstream from the spill, the notice of the spill stated.
County personnel also inspected Calls Creek at several locations downstream of the spill searching for any effects on the environment, the statement read.
Signage was placed on Calls Creek notifying the public of the spill, the notice said.
In the email exchange this afternoon, Haynie said laboratory analysis will not be ready for release until next Tuesday, since it takes seven days for incubation of fecal coliforms.
In addition to tests for fecal coliform, the county will examine acidity, temperature and dissolved oxygen.
In 2015, the county experienced serious problems with the operation of the Calls Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, located at 1100 Durhams Mill Way.
The county hired Haynie to head the Utility Department in 2015 to address those problems, which resulted in discharges of only partially treated wastewater into the creek across some unspecified period of time.
Haynie told me in his email message today that the county reported only one major spill in calendar year 2016 and one major spill in 2017.
Citizen reaction to the plant’s problem was almost nonexistent, though citizens did raise major concerns in 2016 when the county made public its plans to put a sewer discharge line down Calls Creek as a means of expanding the size of the Calls Creek plant.
One group that did express concern about the problems of operation of the Calls Creek plant back in 2015 was UOWN (Upper Oconee Watershed Network).
UOWN ultimately created a related group called Oconeewaters.
Oconeewaters Chair Vicki Soutar sent out an email to members early this afternoon saying she had contacted Haynie about the public notice and would keep members informed about future reports on the incident.
Haynie will host a Water Resources Open House from 6 to 8 p.m. on Jan. 16 at the Civic Center to get citizen feedback on water resource planning for the county, which includes the expansion of the Calls Creek wastewater plant.