Update: Arlington, EPD officials talk more on wastewater issue

Updated: Dec. 15, 2020 at 6:08 PM EST
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ARLINGTON, Ga. (WALB) - The City of Arlington Wastewater Treatment Plant had another problem with its wastewater treatment system in October, similar to one it announced in September. Both issues allowed higher than allowed algae flows over week-long periods.

The city said the facility “experienced inadequate flocculation of algae that allowed higher than permitted total suspended solids to leave the plant.”

Arlington’s Public Works Director Elemar Johnson said that when the water was pumped into the testing the basin, it was cloudy.

Lisa Myler, district manager for the Southwest District Office of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD), said one explanation could have been algae.

Myler said the city wasn’t officially informed about the high suspended solid levels until the EPD sent them a notice.

“There are some spills where you’ve got pipes burst, and it’s a very obvious thing. And they are supposed to report to us immediately when they have a sewage spill. So, for the more obvious ones, we do get a much timelier notification. But for this one, they didn’t catch the math part of it. They did report like they are supposed to, my staff did review the document like she does every month, and then we did immediately notify them that they had a spill,” said Myler.

Johnson said the city sent out a notice to residents as soon as they were notified about the levels — which was about two months after the fact.

Myler said the water was never pumped into residents’ pipes.

“So, each wastewater treatment plant discharges to a local body of water,” Myler said. “So, some of them — I am not sure where Arlington’s discharge is — but there is some type of river or body of water in the area.”

“The episode lasted from October 11, 2020 thru October 17, 2020,” the city said. “Over the week the approximate amount of flow was 0.577 MG (577,000 gallons). The sand filter was fixed, and no additional measures are needed. The upstream and downstream areas will be tested as directed by EPD.”

Flocculation is a process by which a chemical coagulant is added to the water. That acts to start the bonding between particles, which creates larger aggregates that are easier to separate. This method is widely used in water treatment plants and can also be used in water sample processing for monitoring. The process happens as a result of a chemical reaction between the clay particles and another substance, usually saltwater.

EPD said it considered the spill as a “procedural” major spill.

“With something like this, where the water was treated is significantly different from when there are high rain events and water has to bypass the treatment plant or when there is a sewage spill,” said Lisa Myler, EPD Southwest District Office district manager.

The city conducts testing each month to ensure it stays within the guidelines of its permit, according to Myler.

The water involved in the October incident had been treated, but Myler pointed out it was just not treated as much as it should have been.

EPD does not anticipate any environmental impact, but it does require the city to continue sampling over the next 12 months to track any changes, Myler said.

The total suspended solids, Myler said, are particulate matter in water. It’s mostly organic and can make the water look cloudy.

It creates an aesthetic issue, not necessarily a health or hazardous one, according to Myler.

Johnson says the water could have caused high ammonia or low oxygen levels in Perry Creek at the time, but it’s most likely stabilized now.

“The city is required by the permit to notify much sooner than they did,” Myler said. “It’s a problem we have with a lot of our permitted cities.”

Myler said the EPA invests a lot of its staff time to help cities like Arlington meet compliance in notifying the public.

“I believe (the city) did the best that (it) could,” Myler added.

The city is required to give written notice to the EPD of an incident and a copy of all reports within five days of a spill.

EPD discovered the issue after reviewing the city’s September report. The operator, who is a city employee, should have noticed the issue first and notified the EPD prior to the EPD finding it, according to Myler.

The October spill is considered major because the amount spilt exceeded more than 50 percent of the city’s permit regulation.

“Not uncommon when it’s something like this,” Myler said.

The city’s permit is 0.30 micrograms per liter. Any spill above 0.45 MG should be reported.

Johnson and Myler plan to meet soon in an effort to find the root of the blue-green algae issue.

Johnson said they’re considering covering half of the pond, so light cannot penetrate the water, causing the algae to die.

“Once we have that meeting, we will have more information. And I know that the city engineer is involved and they are looking into what caused the situation. So, yes, going forward, this is not something that should happen on any routine frequency. And we will work with Arlington to figure out what the problem is and make sure we get it resolved,” said Myler.

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