The Macon Water Authority

790 Second Street • Macon, GA 31202-0108 • (478) 464-5600

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MWA Experiencing Permit Violations at Rocky Creek

Nov 2, 2020 by Chris Wood, Ph.D.

The Macon Water Authority (MWA) is experiencing permit violations at its Rocky Creek Water Reclamation Facility, due to the treatment plant not operating at optimal efficiency and because of abnormally high loadings of regulated discharges within the wastewater coming from nearby Graphic Packaging International (GPI). The combination of these factors has upset the facility’s biological treatment processes.

GPI attributes problems with pretreatment at their Macon Mill to operational and mechanical issues, compounded by a major weather event earlier in the year. Although a rule from Georgia EPD will require the MWA to report the Rocky Creek Plant’s permit violations as a major spill, the current flows coming out of the Facility consist of treated wastewater effluent rather than raw sewage, and there are no indications of danger to public health.

“Fortunately, there are no water systems below our discharge location that use the river as their water source for drinking water,” says Tony Rojas, MWA Executive Director and President.

However, the current quality of Rocky Creek’s effluent is sub-standard. At present, the Total Suspended Solids (TSS) and Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) discharges at the Plant have exceeded their permitted limits. According to Authority officials, when biological treatment processes at a water reclamation facility are upset, it takes time for them to return to normal operational conditions.

The MWA has been in continual communication with Georgia EPD to inform and update them on the situation and the progress made toward its resolution, while also corresponding with the Altamaha Riverkeeper, whose mission is to protect, defend and restore Georgia’s biggest river – the Altamaha – and its tributaries, which include the Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Ohoopee Rivers.

“The wastewater leaving the Rocky Creek Plant has been treated; however, it’s not currently within the parameters outlined in our permit,” adds Rojas, who notes that it’s very unusual for the award-winning Rocky Creek Plant to not be performing optimally. “Everyone is doing the responsible thing, and we all understand the urgency to get operations back to normal. It’s an unfortunate situation that we’re trying to resolve as quickly as possible.”

The MWA continues to monitor the water quality in the Ocmulgee River upstream and downstream from the point where the Rocky Creek Plant’s treated wastewater discharges into the water body. Mark Wyzalek, MWA Director of Laboratory/Environmental Compliance, says test results conducted by his staff reflect no adverse changes in water quality that would cause concern for public health or the river’s ecosystem.

Graphic Packaging is a leading manufacturer of paper-based packaging products, primarily for the food and beverage industries. The company has over 2,260 employees in Georgia, with 525 employed at the Macon Mill, which generates approximately $2 billion in economic impact for the region. The facility currently is engaged in a $136.8 million modernization project that will be completed in 2021. The GPI Macon Mill is the MWA’s largest sewer customer, in addition to being the largest industrial sewer customer of any public sewer utility in the state of Georgia.

The MWA’s current rehabilitation of its Rocky Creek Water Reclamation Facility is part of one of the largest Capital Improvement Projects in the history of the Authority. The MWA is investing approximately $26 million into upgrades at the Rocky Creek Plant.
These types of permit violations at the Rocky Creek Plant are unprecedented, say Authority officials. For 20 consecutive years, prior to 2020, the Rocky Creek Plant has received either a Gold or Platinum Award from the Georgia Association of Water Professionals (GAWP) in recognition of meeting the highest standards of permit compliance.

Since being constructed in the early 1970’s, the Rocky Creek Plant has provided wastewater treatment services for the southern and western portions of Macon-Bibb County. The Plant is designed to treat a monthly average of 28 million gallons of wastewater per day (MGD). The current treatment flow at Rocky Creek averages approximately 18.5 MGD, with 7 to 9 MGD coming from the Graphic Packaging Macon Mill.

Media contact:
Chris Wood, Ph.D.
P: 770-757-1681 OR
E: chris@jwapr.com or john.wood@gcsu.edu

MWA contacts:
Ray Shell, EVP of Field & Plant Operations
P: 478-338-0517 OR
E: rshell@maconwater.org

Tony Rojas, Executive Director & President
P: 478-464-5622 or 478-256-9332 OR
E: tonyr@maconwater.org

Tagged: mwa, macon water authority, rocky creek water reclamation facility, graphic packaging international

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