Source of sewage spill that led to Chattahoochee River closure discovered

Chattahoochee River
Chattahoochee River(Rachel Aragon)
Published: Jul. 3, 2023 at 4:58 AM CDT|Updated: Jul. 3, 2023 at 4:59 PM CDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A wastewater treatment plant in Roswell is believed to be responsible for a sewage spill that led to dangerous levels of E. coli found in parts of the Chattahoochee River.

On Monday, a spokesperson with the non-profit Chattahoochee Riverkeeper told Atlanta News First the sewer spill originated from the Big Creek Wastewater Treatment facility.

David Clark, Fulton County Public Works Director, said last week a toxic chemical entered into the treatment facility and caused the water treatment process to malfunction.

“And what is now happened is the water is only being partially treated when it comes through this plant. And not fully treated anymore. It’s important to note, it’s not raw sewage that is entering the Chattahoochee River. It is partially treated,” said Clark, on Monday.

The spill prompted a partial closure of the river from the Chattahoochee Nature Center to the East Palisades-Whitewater Creek Unit. River officials said the closed areas will now include all downstream sections of the park.

15 miles of the river will remain closed to the public after a July 2 water quality test revealed “bacteria levels that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency recommended limits for recreation.”

Crews are working to disinfect the water, but officials tell us it isn’t a quick and easy process. Officials cautioned that these closures could extend past the Fourth of July holiday through the end of the week.

Clark said their latest sample read 100,000 parts E.coli per milliliter. The County standard is 200 parts E.coli per milliliter.

Wheeler said they’ll only re-open the river when those standards are met.

“As soon as we receive good water quality data we’ll open the river,” said Beth Wheeler, acting superintendent of the Chattahoochee River Recreation Area.

“There are a series of treatments that water treatment facilities have to implement, including having a healthy combination of bugs essentially that digest the bacteria. And that can take time to reestablish those healthy balances,” said Juliet Cohen, executive director of ‘Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.’

Cohen says her non-profit collected the alarming levels of bacteria from water samples in the river a week ago, but it wasn’t until Friday that federal officials took action after they identified where it was coming from.

She says exposure, especially through cuts or open skin, has serious consequences.

“Illnesses, any sort of digestive intestinal illnesses,” said Cohen.

VIEW HERE: The latest water quality conditions

There is currently no timeline for reopening. The hiking trails, picnic shelters, and Hewlett Lodge visitor center remain open, river officials said.

Clark said they are still investigating what toxin interrupted the filtration process.

He said it could be chlorine from a nearby resident emptying a swimming pool.

Clark said recent renovations to the treatment facility along with an upcoming installation of a membrane filtration system should help ensure malfunctions like this one are detected more often in the future.

In the meantime, officials are urging all visitors to the Chattahoochee River to check signage before entering into the water.