City Council News The playground at Atlanta Memorial Park during a flood situation that dumps fecal matter in the area.

Published on February 8th, 2016 |

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Norwood acts to ‘fix sewage-filled’ discharges into streams, neighborhoods

Buckhead resident and Post 2 at-large Atlanta City Councilwoman Mary Norwood has been digging into the city’s sewer issues for well more than a decade, seeking to discover why raw sewage discharges continue to pollute parks and residents’ yards despite the city spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the problems.

Flooding of Peachtree Creek after heavy rains along Northside Drive often carries with creek waters excessive sewage pollutioon.

Flooding of Peachtree Creek after heavy rains along Northside Drive often carries with creek waters excessive sewage pollutioon.

Tuesday (Feb. 9) Norwood is introducing a resolution at the city’s Utilities Committee in an attempt to finally “fix the sewage-filled stormwater discharges occurring from the (Atlanta) west side’s combined sewer overflow (CSO) facilities,” and she gives the Watershed Management Department 90- days to present City Council with a plan for doing so.

The Utilities Committee meeting is set for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at City Hall.

This is not a new problem. Buckhead City Council representatives Norwood, Yolanda Adrean, Howard Shook and Felicia Moore have for years heard the outrage from residents about sewage tainted stormwater overflowing into Atlanta Memorial Park and its surrounding neighborhoods.

BuckheadView has written numerous stories about outlandish levels of E. coli in Tanyard Creek as it flows through Tanyard Creek Park and into Peachtree Creek through Atlanta Memorial Park.

The testing reports come from a Neighborhood Watch Program of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper organization. The Riverkeeper has neighborhood volunteers throughout many areas of the city who weekly take water samples from the streams which then the Riverkeeper tests.

Catherine Spillman, executive director of the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy, told BuckheadView she, her family and some volunteers spent Christmas Eve day last year cleaning up Peachtree Creek along the Bobby Jones Golf Course and the passive west side of the park instead of completing their Christmas shopping.

Atlanta Memorial Park often is flooded and polluted with sewage after heavy rains.

Atlanta Memorial Park often is flooded and polluted with sewage after heavy rains.

Residents along the park have experienced this for decades and they see and report little improvement in the situation—including four or five times since last November having sewage tainted flood waters come into their yards.

Both Norwood and Adrean (who represents the Memorial Park area of Buckhead and additional areas along Peachtree Creek in west Buckhead, are adamant the first thing the city must do is get the pollution out of the park and neighborhoods.

“You cannot have children wading in water that is filled with E. coli,” Norwood has stated. “This has exacerbated each year for the past four or five years.” It is a health problem both council members want corrected.

Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management is required to file discharge monitoring reports with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to comply with the 1998 and 1999 federal consent decrees, which required the city to overhaul its combined and separated water/sewer systems, respectively, at a cost of $2 billion.

Each quarter, the city also files those reports with the state, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the plaintiffs in the case, including the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, which sued the city over raw sewage polluting the Chattahoochee River.

By law, the reports are to include the number of combined sewer overflows each of the city’s creeks have had during the month. But some local residents, as well as engineers familiar with the

Water samples are taken weekly by volunteers in many neighborhoods across Atlanta to determine the quality of water in neighborhood streams.

Water samples are taken weekly by volunteers in many neighborhoods across Atlanta to determine the quality of water in neighborhood streams.

system, claim those reports the department files monthly are not accurate.

Furthermore, there are claims from professionals who have followed the city’s sewer system problems for years that the Department of Watershed Management has changed its definition of what a combined sewer overflow is to make its sewer system’s performance seem better than it really is. They city’s definitions reportedly do not follow those used by the EPD or EPA.

At a quick look, it is obvious there were 46 combined sewer overflows in 2015 in the city’s four CSO facilities: Tanyard Creek, Proctor Creek, North Avenue and Clear Creek. That was an increase from 19 in 2012, 31 in 2013 and 34 in 2014.

In July 2014, the city opened the Liddell Drive Equalization Facility as part of the city’s Peachtree Creek Capacity Relief Project. It was supposed to help slow down the flow of water at Peachtree Creek and prevent combined sewer overflows from happening.

The 10-million gallon tank at Liddell plays a big part in determining that lasting solution, but it reportedly has not worked during several rain events, even those as low as 2 inches of rain.

At the Tuesday (Feb. 9) city Utilities Committee meeting, representatives from the Department of Watershed Management are supposed to provide this top priority area and the allocation of capital improvement funds to create a resolution to the flooding at the creek.

Meanwhile, here are some numbers on E. coli (fecal bacteria) MPN levels per 100 ML taken from the Riverkeeper’s webpage between Dec. 3, 2015 and 1/28/2016 worth thinking about (normal “safe” E. coli levels for recreational use in streams being 100MPN/100ML):

Tanyard Creek in Tanyard Creek Park: 3 readings of 5,070 MPN, 14,545 MPN, 6,980 MPN.

Peachtree Creek readings taken at Northside Drive and at Ridgewood: At Northside Drive levels consistently above 670 MPN, on 12/3 was 3,770 and 12/17 was 8,035; At Ridgewood, on 12/3 was 1,295, on 1/7 was 935 and on 1/28 was 480.

Nancy Creek readings taken at Roswell Road, Randall Mill and West Wesley: At Roswell Road on 12/3 was 1,565, on 1/14 was 780 and on 1/28 was 550. At Randall Mill on 12/17 was 6,295 and on 1/7 was 540. At West Wesley on 12/3 was 1,230, on 1/7 was 485 and on 1/28 was 430.

(Note: None of the above readings came during the largest rainfalls of December and January.)

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    2 Responses to Norwood acts to ‘fix sewage-filled’ discharges into streams, neighborhoods

    1. JeffreyK says:

      CSOs are bad enough, but when coupled with all of the development in the area, particularly with huge surface parking areas (hello Peachtree Battle Shopping Center, et al), well, this is what we get. It isn’t rocket science.

      Thank you Mary Norwood for leading the charge, and don’t forget to look at developers.

    2. Mark says:

      Don’t need to see test results to know how bad this problem remains. I run here most days and after heavy rains the smell of sewage is terrible. Even after the flood waters receded clearly raw sewage is in the dirt left on the street. I should probably sterilize my running shoes when it gets this way. Not to distract from the issue of sewage and flood water combining but seeing the debris piles in the creek after a flood is enough to put one off using plastic water bottles for ever. Having said that I know my own family use way more than most.
      Ps if your kids are looking for a slightly solid soccer, basketball (basically any kind of ball) plenty to be has down here after a heavy rain. Of course the down side is the reality check that they WILL come down with ecoli

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