Judge overturns Forsyth County sewage discharge permit
By JIM WALLS
State environmental officials broke their own rules when they gave Forsyth County a sewage discharge permit that would have unnecessarily polluted the Chattahoochee River, a judge ruled this week.
The judge ordered the state to reduce fecal coliform limits by 88 percent and phosphorus limits by 73 percent for new discharges from two Forsyth County sewage treatment plants. The state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) last August authorized the plants to dump up to 6 million gallons a day of treated sewage into the Chattahoochee, enough to serve about 60,000 new residents.
Administrative Law Judge Kristin Miller issued her final decision Wednesday in a case brought by Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Sally Bethea. Bethea argued, and Miller agreed, that EPD had not followed its “antidegradation” rule, which requires that the agency analyze alternative treatment methods and whether the increased pollution is necessary to accommodate important social or economic development.
The EPD permit would have allowed Forsyth County to dump wastewater with levels of fecal coliform bacteria nearly four times those in the Chattahoochee at the discharge point, the judge said in her order. Higher phosphorus levels, which can foster river-killing algae blooms, would have been nearly six times existing levels in the ‘Hooch.
Those discharge limits were as much as 100 times higher than those in other recently issued discharge permits in the watershed, the riverkeeper said today in a news release. She added:
“We are thrilled with this decision, which represents a major victory for clean water for all the people who recreate in the river and downstream lakes.”
Miller said the two Forsyth County plants, if operated efficiently, could attain the lower limits for fecal coliform bacteria at no additional cost. Using chemicals to meet the lower phosphorus limits for treated wastewater would cost the average consumer about $3 a month