A pump failure on New Year’s Eve at a Cobb County water treatment plant was still causing the overflow of sewage into one of the Chattahoochee River’s main tributaries Wednesday afternoon.
A mixture of rainwater, creek water and untreated wastewater continues to overflow into Nickajack Creek just south of Discovery Boulevard, said county spokesman Ross Cavitt. But, he said, the county’s drinking water is safe.
Lewis Hays, a compliance manager with the state’s watershed protection group, said pump systems have two areas: a dry side where electrical components are kept and a wet side from where the water is pulled.
He said the dry area of the pump at the South Cobb Water Reclamation Facility somehow got water inside it and this caused the pump to fail.
Cavitt said authorities don’t know how that happened and won’t know until they remove water from the facility.
Cavitt said the land affected by the overflow is owned by the county and fairly remote, but workers are posting warning signs and closing nearby trails.
Officials with neither the county nor the state seem to know how much sewage has been spilled.
“With all the rain, it’ll be difficult to come up with an exact estimate, but they’ll make a guess based on what they saw of the overflow at the manholes,” said Hays, whose agency will be investigating the spill.
What they do know is that the situation wouldn’t be as bad if metro Atlanta wasn’t already saturated.
The National Weather Service deemed 2018 one of the wettest years metro Atlanta has ever had, with more than 65 inches of rain. In the soaking run-up to the end of year celebration, meteorologists predicted up to six inches of rain.
Cavitt said back-up systems were in place, “but they were taken out in the incident.”
He said it is too early to determine how much this will cost the county.
For years, spills have caused large fines for governments throughout the metro area, the worst being in DeKalb County and the city of Atlanta.
After more than 147 million gallons of wastewater spilled into the Chattahoochee in the five years prior to 2016, Atlanta got its initial approval to pay $378,000 in fines to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
DeKalb was fined $294,000 in 2017 for not only failing to uphold federal standards but also not reporting 48 sewage spills between 2012 and 2016. DeKalb county has pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to improving its deteriorating sewage system.
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Previous reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicates Gwinnett and Cobb counties believe newer systems and routine maintenance have saved them from chronic spills.
Cobb is taking this one seriously.
“It will be all-hands-on-deck until we can address the situation and figure out what caused the problem,” Cobb commission chairman Mike Boyce said Wednesday in a news release.
Cobb has had to ask other municipalities, including one in South Florida, for extra pumps to clear the clogged pipes at the water treatment plant and the swollen manholes.