The Macon Water Authority

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Rocky Creek Returns to Compliance, But Issues Loom

Nov 19, 2020 by Chris Wood, Ph.D.

After operating for weeks at less-than-optimal efficiency that resulted in permit violations, the Macon Water Authority’s (MWA) Rocky Creek Water Reclamation Facility recently returned to operations that were in compliance, albeit temporarily. Issues impacting the quality of the treated wastewater (effluent) leaving the Plant persist, and additional permit violations are expected in the future, according to Authority officials.

The MWA submitted a major spill report to the Georgia EPD Watershed Protection Branch today (Friday, Nov. 20), outlining the volume, location and cause of wastewater effluent leaving the Rocky Creek Plant that exceeded its permitted limits for regulated discharges.

The dates of major spills from the Rocky Creek Plant ran for approximately two weeks until Nov. 3, when the facility’s treatment processes returned to operating within permit compliance. During that period of non-compliance, however, a total of approximately 250 million gallons of substandard treated wastewater effluent was discharged into the Ocmulgee River.

Although Georgia EPD rules require such an incident be reported as a “major spill,” the discharges coming out of the Rocky Creek Plant are treated wastewater, not raw sewage, so there are no indications of any danger to public health, according to Authority officials.

In addition, MWA Director of Laboratory/Environmental Compliance Mark Wyzalek says test results conducted by his staff reflect no adverse changes in water quality that would cause concern for the river’s ecosystem, either.

The MWA continues to monitor the water quality in the Ocmulgee River upstream and downstream from where the Rocky Creek Plant’s treated wastewater discharges into the water body, remaining vigilant to notify the public of any changes in that water quality that might negatively impact public health or the environment.

For more than a month now, the MWA’s Rocky Creek Plant has been receiving abnormally high loadings of regulated discharges within the wastewater coming from the nearby Graphic Packaging International (GPI) Macon Mill, because of operational and mechanical issues the paper container and packaging company is experiencing at their local facility.

The discharges from the GPI Macon Mill upset Rocky Creek’s biological treatment processes – an incident that was resolved temporarily, only to return because of issues that persist at the GPI Macon Mill. As a result, the quality of the treated wastewater (effluent) leaving the Rocky Plant has been sub-standard, with Total Suspended Solids (TSS) and Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) of that effluent exceeding permitted limits.

One of the biggest challenges for plant operators at the MWA Rocky Creek Water Reclamation Facility is the unique composition of the wastewater coming into the plant from the GPI Mill, which takes longer than normal to process. Nearly half of the average wastewater treatment flow at Rocky Creek (18.5 MGD) comes from the GPI Mill.

The good news, says MWA Executive VP of Field & Plant Operations Ray Shell, is that he and his MWA staff are learning more about the intricacies of the Rocky Creek Plant, which is undergoing $26 million in upgrades, and their overall wastewater treatment processes.

“We have found certain indicators and established new diagnostic methods to detect when issues like this may arise in the future,” says Shell. “Hopefully, this will allow us to see potential problems coming and respond before our treatment processes are negatively impacted. We’re learning to look for things that we didn’t know to look for before.”

MWA officials have been in continual communication with state regulators at Georgia EPD, as well as public and environmental protection advocacy groups such as Altamaha Riverkeeper, to update these stakeholders on the situation and progress toward its resolution.

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

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

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