Public Health

Published on May 4th, 2016 |


City discharged 82M gal. of CSO into Peachtree Creek in 3 months of ’16

(Editor’s Note: Justin Wiedeman, PE, has been a consultant to BuckheadView on the city of Atlanta’s water and sewer systems for more than a dozen years, and a

Justin Wiedeman

Justin Wiedeman

consultant to the city even longer. Most recently, Wiedeman has been pouring over tens of thousands of pages of documents prepared by the city’s Department of Watershed Management to prepare this and ensuing BuckheadView reports.)

By Justin Wiedeman

The Department of Watershed Management’s recently filed report for the first quarter of 2016 shows the city “discharged” approximately 82 million gallons of combined sewage overflow—either untreated or undertreated—into Peachtree Creek in those three months.

Additionally, the report—which is mandated by the 1998 Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Consent Decree with state and federal regulators—shows continued sewage discharges of over 120 million gallons to Proctor Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee due south of Peachtree Creek.

The above chart from the 1st quarter report by the city's DWM shows shows

The above chart from the 1st quarter report by the city’s DWM shows shows the discharges.

It is important to note that the DWM recently redefined the term combined sewer overflow to a “CSS discharge.”

BuckheadView has not been able to identify any technical documents that justify the change in terminology which apparently seeks to relieve the city of a limitation on the number of combined sewer overflows to Buckhead creeks.  As a result, BuckheadView will continue to use the terminology combined sewer overflow, which is consistent with the regulatory filings and with City reports for the previous 15 years.

Massive project to relieve Combined Sewage Overflows operating for less than 8 years

In 2008, the city of Atlanta completed a massive storage tunnel with an excavated diameter of nearly 30 feet which is approximately 8.5 miles long.   The cost of the improvements with engineering, program management, construction management and actual construction was approximately $500 million of the multi-billion program.

In 2003, the city decided to maintain a combined sewer system for Midtown, where both stormwater and sanitary sewage are collected in the same pipe causing overflows which resulted in a

The above sign warns of a sewer overflow.

The above sign warns of a sewer overflow.

Consent Decree by a federal Judge.

The combined sewer service area in Midtown includes approximately 5,000 acres, much of which is paved or impervious.  The system caused massive environmental damage to Tanyard, Clear and Peachtree creeks as a result of rainfall events which caused the combined sewer to discharge to Buckhead creeks as well as other creeks in the city of Atlanta.

City consultants provided reports and analysis for this project recommending the storage and treatment approach even though new sewer systems are required to have separate sewers for stormwater and sanitary sewage.

The tunnel storage and treatment project was supposed to limit combined sewer overflows from Midtown to Tanyard Creek and Clear Creek (tributaries to Peachtree Creek upstream of Tanyard Park, Bobby Jones Golf Course and Memorial Park) to 4 times per year.

The basic theory was that the massive tunnel would store runoff from rainfall events in Midtown of up 2.5 inches for treatment at a remote location.  The 2002 Pre Design Report produced by the city’s consultants, identified as the Program Management Team, states “Given the West Area Tunnel storage of 2.5 inches of precipitation, a storm slightly smaller than a 2-year, 6-hour duration storm would likely cause a capacity based overflow event.”

Objective measures show massive project has failed to perform for ratepayersStorm Events

The most recent quarterly report, showing greater than 80 million gallons of combined sewage discharge to Peachtree Creek tributaries also provides the rainfall totals that triggered discharge events (previously defined as overflows).

Rather than a rainfall of 2.5 inches, the DWM report recently filed with state and federal regulators for Q1 2016 shows a rainfall event of just 0.63 inches trigging a combined sewer overflow event.  This is approximately 25% of the criteria shown in city consultant reports.

Further, that 4 combined sewer overflows totaling greater than 80 million gallons were reported just to Clear Creek in the first quarter where the design criteria was 4 for the entire year, it appears obvious by any objective measure the system has failed to perform.

Where is the accountability?

The city’s team of consultants, called the Program Management Team, continues to be paid approximately $10 million a year for various consulting activities.  This team has reportedly been paid hundreds of millions in fees over the past two decades.  Yet, City ratepayers continue to be on the hook as there will have to be yet another fix to this program that has only worked for the city consultants and contractors.

Given that ratepayers of the city of Atlanta pay the highest water and sewer rates in the country in addition to a 1 percent sales tax, city consultants should be held accountable for the lack of performance.

Atlanta ratepayers can’t afford to fix again what was supposed to have been already fixed.


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2 Responses to City discharged 82M gal. of CSO into Peachtree Creek in 3 months of ’16

  1. Jud Ready says:

    That’s absurd that every single overflow event was less…generally way less, by at least an inch…than the design criteria to accommodate 2.5” of rain! The 0.63″ event took ~4.5 hours to accumulate for goodness sake!

    Something is clearly wrong with their design…or the build is wrong…or operations…probably all of the above to be that far off!

  2. Lee Leland says:

    Citizens of Buckhead this sewage overflow occurred due to a failed CSO tunnel design, time to settle the score, we need to sue the Design Consultants, If I recall from previous articles in the paper, I think it was a group called Jones Jordan Goulding. It seems obvious the contractor built what tunnel was specified, I could be wrong but I they do not seemed to be at blame. This was a blunder, a complete engineering failure, where was the peer review, at the end of the day the Designer should be held accountable!! This is not a “no harm no foul”, situation, it’s a horribly costly mistake and needs to be resolved in the court of law, time to call in the errors and omissions insurance coverage to pay for the repair costs not the taxpayers.

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