Savannah River pollution rules challenge wastewater generators

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Industries and municipalities are close – but not quite ready – to meet a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plan to redefine how much waste can be dumped into the Savannah River.

“The regulators say sewage in Augusta contributes to low dissolved oxygen in Savannah Harbor,” said research director Oscar Flite of the Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, which is sharing its water quality data with government scientists.

The new federal standard would allow just 80,000 pounds of oxygen-consuming materials per day from all dischargers combined, Flite said Monday during a presentation to the Kiwanis Club of Augusta.

That represents a huge reduction from permitted levels that once totaled 601,347 pounds per day, of which 95 percent originate from the river’s Georgia side.

So far, negotiations among stakeholders have yielded a plan that reduces the amount to 81,600 pounds per day – within 2 percent of the 80,000 pound-per-day goal, Flite said.

Efforts to resolve the discrepancy could include more changes in wastewater treatment programs and equipment, but might also include refining the data used to calculate the limits, known as “total maximum daily loads,” Flite said.

The academy, which has collected extensive water quality data since its “Savannah River at Risk” project was initiated in 2006, plans to share its information with regulators in hopes that it could be used to refine or supplement modeling data used to calculate the new pollution limits.

“We’ve found up to a 10 percent gap in some of the ways they look at things,” he said. “We think the answer is in the data, not in the modeling.”

The pending changes were required under a settlement to a 1994 Sierra Club lawsuit in which the EPA concluded that water in Savannah Harbor is deficient in dissolved oxygen. The agency’s remedy was to limit oxygen-depleting discharges, including wastewater released in Augusta, 200 miles upstream.

Many of the reductions are being accomplished through renegotiated discharge permits. Some stakeholders are also investing in better technology or pre-treatment programs.

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trailblazin 11/28/11 - 11:23 pm
Rob, Can you help us out

Rob, Can you help us out here? I thought you wrote an article several years back about the reason for the deficiency in dissolved oxygen in the Savannah Harbor had more to do with the natural break down of tannins from the many hardwoods and swamps that inhabit the lower Savannah River. So our government and environmental groups shun science? Say it isn't so??

Riverman1 11/29/11 - 06:05 am
The major factor is keeping

The major factor is keeping adequate releases from Thurmond Dam intact. The flowing water can negate much of the impact of the Augusta discharges into the river. There are two places where low oxygen content are a problem locally.

One is in Columbia County portion of the river because of the low oxygen water being released from the bottom of the lake. The aerators will hopefully improve that problem.

The second major problem is just south of Augusta where the sewage treatment plant and chemical factories release their pollutants causing oxygen depletion. However with adequate flows, the testing site at Clyo 40 miles down river shows the water has returned to normal when it reaches that far south. No one wants to see Olin have to lay people off.

Little Lamb
Little Lamb 11/29/11 - 08:47 am
When you base your

When you base your regulations on mathematical models rather than on observable harm and observable benefits you start out on shakey ground that soon becomes a slippery slope of continuing tightening of regulatory limits until all society is strangled.

Only perfection is good enough for the Sierra Club.

Sean Moores
Sean Moores 11/29/11 - 12:08 pm
trailblazin, I couldn't find

trailblazin, I couldn't find the story you were asking about so I emailed Rob Pavey. Here is his reply and a link to the story:

"That is correct, and here is a link to one of those stories:

that being said, it’s not that everyone shuns science, but moreso that – as today’s story said – the academy wants to share real data with the regulators, so they don’t rely exclusively on modeling (because, some contend, modeling doesn’t always tell the complete story)..

It is also my understanding that the new EPA edict (which is quite complicated by the way) includes a provision to allow credits to sewage dumpers based on how far away they are from Savannah Harbor.

That provision likely stemmed from the academy’s scientific conclusion that while sewage dumped in Augusta depletes oxygen, the oxygen levels recover downstream – meaning the causes of low DO in the harbor are caused by factors other than sewage 200 miles upstream."

Rob Pavey 11/29/11 - 06:01 pm
well, thanks sean.

well, thanks sean.

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