Published on March 16th, 2016 |


Claim permit limits city’s CSO pollution discharges rated ‘pants on fire’

(Editor’s Note: BuckheadView this week launched BV FactCheck, a new feature based on the concept of the national PolitiFact. BV FactCheck will check the validity of claims and comments FactCheckmade regarding news issues such as the flooding and sewage pollution of Peachtree Creek and Atlanta Memorial Park. Items checked will be rated on the basis of Unrelated (to the issue), True, Mostly True, Mostly False, False and Pants on Fire. The ratings will be based on research available to BuckheadView and input from professional engineers.

During a presentation to the City Utilities Committee work session on March 9, Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management Commissioner Jo Ann Macrina stated that the city was limited in the pollution that could be discharged to Tanyard Creek and Clear Creek (from the combined sewage overflow facilities) based on limits (provided in the permit).

BuckheadView decided to verify DWM Commissioner Macrina’s statements that the CSO Control Facilities, which discharge combined sewage to Clear Creek and Tanyard Creek (as well as Intrenchment Creek and Proctor Creek) have pollutant discharge limits in the state-issued NPDES permit.

In context, the Deputy Chief of Staff to Mayor Reed, Katrina Taylor-Parks, provided an introduction to the March 9, 2015, presentation to the City Utilities Committee stating that the

Jo Ann Macrina

Jo Ann Macrina

presentation was the “City’s official position.” Macrina then stepped up to the podium and began the slide presentation.

Given the thoroughness of our research on these matters, we are going to address the issue of whether DWM is limited in pollution that can be discharged to Tanyard and Clear Creek (similar to Intrenchment and Proctor Creek). Other statements made during the work session will be examined going forward.

The issue of limits to pollution that can be discharged to creeks upstream of Memorial Park, as well as Ardmore Park, Bobby Jones Golf Course and Tanyard Creek Park, were presented as part of a slide titled “Questions & Answers: Permits.”

A rhetorical true-or-false question was read by Macrina: “The City can discharge unlimited pollutants (from the CSO Control Facilities) into Tanyard and Clear Creek.” While the slide did not say CSO Control Facilities, we know that these are the only facilities with permits to discharge combined sewage to Tanyard and Clear Creek.

Then the question was answered by Macrina: “The answer is False, because, no we cannot discharge an unlimited amount of pollutants. We do have limits on those.”Limits art1

Some background is helpful regarding permits required to discharge to waterways of the United States. The permits are referred to by the acronym NPDES and they are required by USEPA and issued by the local state (Georgia). These permits govern what, how, when, etc.

Given the complexity of these permits, a Permitting Writers Manual (“PWM”) was developed by USEPA to provide general guidance. Let’s start with how USEPA categorizes a pollutant; then we can develop a list from the guidance to fact check by comparing these to the Tanyard NPDES permit. (See top chart at right.)

Three categories of Pollutants for water permits

According to the USEPA PWM, there are three categories of Pollutants for water permits: Conventional, Toxic (Priority) and Nonconventional.Limits Art2

Under each of the categories, EPA includes several parameters. In the interest of brevity, we have compared these specific parameters with the requirements in NPDES Permit Number GA0038644 for the CSO Control Facilities that discharge combined sewage to Tanyard and Clear Creek (as well as Proctor Creek). (See second graphic at right.)

Clearly nine (9) out of the twelve (12) parameters listed in the USEPA description do not have limits. Rather, DWM is only required to “report” what was in the combined sewage before it was discharged to the creek. (See bottom graphic at right.)

However, it gets a bit more complicated because the three (3) pollutant parameters that do have limits are of a different category.

In the case of Fecal Coliform, EPA states “total coliforms are a group of related bacteria that are (with few exceptions) not harmful to humans… EPA considers total coliforms a useful indicator of other pathogens…”

So the limit is really about something else that is bad that may have been discharged to the creek, rather than the actual parameter.

With respect to chlorine, the source of the chlorine is DWM. The permit limit is only exceeded if DWM adds too much chlorine upstream of the discharge to the creeks. So this is not a pollutant Limits art3generated by customers, but by DWM itself.

Lastly, pH is not a pollutant. Rather, it is a “figure expressing the acidity or alkalinity of a solution.”

Fact Check type inseertConclusion:
Macrina’s statements to City Utilities Committee, that DWM is limited in pollutants it can discharge to Tanyard and Clear Creek, have little or no basis in fact.

The NPDES permit issued by the state requires that DWM report on what was discharged to the creeks, but does not limit pollution other than the three (3) of twelve (12) parameters provided in EPA’s permit writing guide. Those three parameters are indicators of pollution or pollution resulting from actions by DWM and not by DWM customers.

The only true limit to what DWM can discharge to Tanyard and Clear Creek from the combined sewer system is what customers put into the sewer. That’s not a limit.

As a result, Macrina’s statements warrant the PANTS ON FIRE rating.

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