Community News

Published on March 17th, 2016 |


Activist: Don’t forget Tanyard Creek pollution in addressing sewage spills

A longtime activist resident of the Collier Hills neighborhood in south Buckhead wants to make sure the city’s Utilities Committee doesn’t overlook Tanyard Creek’s “appallingly high” pollution problems as it seeks solutions to sewage spills in Peachtree Creek and Atlanta Memorial Park.

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Jason Ulseth is shown at Tanyard Creek when he was in charge of the Neighborhood Water Watch program.

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Jason Ulseth is shown at Tanyard Creek when he was in charge of the Neighborhood Water Watch program. He has a water test sample bag in his hand.

“There has been much discussion amongst the neighborhoods and in the media about the sewer-laden waters flooding Atlanta Memorial Park when Peachtree Creek levels are high,” wrote Katharine Montgomery, Collier Hills Civic Association Parks & Environment Chair, in a letter this week to Utilities Committee members.

“However, not much has been mentioned about Tanyard Creek. As a member of the Collier Hills community that Tanyard Creek flows through, I can tell you that there is a problem,” wrote Montgomery.

Collier Hills was the first neighborhood to participate in the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s Neighborhood Waterwatch program when it started in 2010. Water samples have been collected and analyzed almost weekly since January 2010 (238 results).

“The data clearly shows that Tanyard Creek still has problems,” she wrote. “There are still appallingly high e. coli levels (in Tanyard Creek) on a fairly regular basis.”

Montgomery provided a quick rundown of the Tanyard Creek sampling data (January 2010 – present) showing 97.5 percent of all results exceed the EPA’s 126 cfu/100ml acceptable e. coli level for recreational water.

She also pointed out that 36.5 percent of all results exceed the Georgia Adopt-A-Streams 1,000 cfu/100ml level for warranting special attention.

For each sampling year, following are the percentage of results that were above the Georgia Adopt-A Stream “special attention” level: 2010, 47.6%; 2011, 54%; 2012, 34.3%; 2013, 46.2%; 2014 24.2%; 2015, 26.7%; and 2016, 28.6%.

In addition to e. coli measurements, turbidity, which is an indicator of cloudiness or particulate disturbance in the water, is also measured. Precipitation is also reported with the data set. With these data it is easy to tell when a high recorded e. coli level is associated with a rain event and when it is it not.

“When the commissioner of Watershed Management said there were no CSO overflows when the pump station was down last summer (in July), there was a recorded sample at Tanyard Creek of

Volunteers test the water in Tanyard Creek from the bridge in the middle of Tanyard Park.

Volunteers test the water in Tanyard Creek from the bridge in the middle of Tanyard Park.

32,025 MPN/100ml on July 2, 2015, the fifth highest level recorded since the sampling started in 2010,” Montgomery wrote.

Within the same area of the watershed on the same day (7/2/2015), the following extremely high results were recorded: 28,970 MPN/100ml Peachtree Creek at Northside Drive; 120,980 MPN/100ml Clear Creek at Brookwood; and 49,020 MPN/100ml Peachtree Creek at Ridegwood.

EPA’s acceptable level is 126. Turbidity was also high but not from rain, she reported, because rain was recorded as “trace.”

“Perhaps the water was turbid (cloudy) because it was an outright discharge, not due to an overflow from a rain event,” Montgomery offered. The results before and after that date were much lower but still above the EPA acceptable level.

“The problem is not only with discharges into the creek that are clearly from the sanitary sewers but also the increasing volume and velocity of the stormwaters that are destroying the banks of the creek,” wrote Montgomery, who has lived in Collier Hills since 2004 and was president of the neighborhood association 2005-2010.

In her professional career, Montgomery has been an Environmental Scientist for two consulting firms focusing on human health and ecological risk assessment matters, both for the purpose of environmental remediation and litigation support.

“I look at the environmental issues with Tanyard Creek not just through the lens of an affected neighbor but also a past professional in the field,” Montgomery informed the members of the Utilities Committee.

“The fact that sanitary sewer discharges into Tanyard Creek are still happening cannot be denied,” Montgomery stated in her letter. “There is debris littering the creekbanks that includes tampons, condoms and flushable wipes. These items are not coming from stormwater.”

Montgomery blames that on no mechanical screening taking place when a combined sewer/stormwater discharge takes place. “I participated in the August 2015 creek clean-up and I participated in the first clean-up of 2016 in February and I can tell you that there were sanitary sewer items picked up both times.”

According to Montgomery, “This means there was at least one major sewer discharge between August and February. I invite you to come out on April 9th when I will be leading another creek

Photo taken during an earlier cleanup day event along Peachtree Creek.

Photo taken during an earlier cleanup day event along Peachtree Creek.

clean-up event at Tanyard Creek so that you can see what is being pulled from the creek and its banks.”

Montgomery suggested as a short-term relief to debris in the creek, that the committee look at a device called the Bandalong Litter Trap. Developed by Storm Water Systems in Cleveland, Georgia, it basically filters the flowing water so that the debris is funneled into the trap and captured as creek water flows through.

According to the Storm Water Systems website, the device has been used successfully in cities such as Washington DC; Waycross, GA; Lafayette, LA; and most recently Gainesville, GA.

“Longer term, there needs to be an overflow diversion system that contains the combined sanitary sewer and stormwater overflows,” Montgomery wrote.

Montgomery concluded her letter by telling the Utilities Committee members the data she presented “is based in fact and anybody can review the water sampling data or see the trash in Tanyard Creek to know that there is an ongoing problem.”

(To check out the water quality samplings from area creeks tested by the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, click here.)

Meanwhile, as Montgomery’s letter was hitting the desks of the members of the City Council’s Utilities Committee, that unit on Monday, March 14, unanimously approved a resolution by Councilwoman Yolanda Adrean requiring the DWM to provide a comprehensive report within 90 days on all sewage discharges in the city in the last year and the impact they have had on neighboring parks, communities and creeks.

On Monday, March 21, 2016, the full City Council will vote on adopting that resolution. A recent similar resolution by Councilwoman Mary Norwood was unanimously approved by council but was almost immediately vetoed by Mayor Kasim Reed.

And, on April 9, both the Collier Hills neighborhood and the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy will be holding stream cleanups of the banks of both Tanyard Creek and Peachtree Creek in conjunction with the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s river cleanup day. They are always looking for volunteers to help.


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One Response to Activist: Don’t forget Tanyard Creek pollution in addressing sewage spills

  1. Thank you to John and Katharine for reporting on the issues facing Tanyard Creek. It is important for BuckheadView’s readers (and others) go understand that the sewage issues span the entire Peachtree Creek watershed. In the Atlanta Memorial Park Conservancy’s discussions, Tanyard, Clear, and Proctor Creeks are being discussed along with the sewage issues specific to Memorial Park. The creeks in our watershed should not be discussed as stand alone issues but, instead, should be discussed as part(s) of the whole. Let’s all continue to tackle this issue from a unified front.

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