A cost-cutting proposal by Georgia's Environmental Protection Division could eliminate a requirement that the public be notified of "nonmajor" sewage spills from municipal wastewater programs.
Under existing rules, almost all sewage spills trigger a public notice to local media and require a one-year stream-monitoring program for larger spills.
The proposed amendment, which is up for public comment until Oct. 29, would eliminate the requirement that cities notify media outlets of nonmajor spills -- and loosen the costly requirements for follow-up environmental monitoring at spill locations.
Major spills are typically defined as involving more than 10,000 gallons of raw sewage, or incidents that result in environmental violations. Such incidents would remain subject to the public notice rule, but nonmajor spills (less than 10,000 gallons) would no longer require public notice.
All spills would continue to be reported to state regulators and local health departments, according to the proposed amendment.
According to an EPD position paper on the proposed change, the media rarely report nonmajor spills.
"Therefore, this requirement hasn't improved the public awareness but it has increased the Publicly Owned Treatment Works' operational costs," the paper states.
The plan is likely to meet opposition from clean-water advocates such as the state's network of Riverkeeper groups.
"It's still in the decision phase, but it's looking like the Riverkeepers will probably come together to fight this rule change," said Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus.
Details on nonmajor spills can help public interest groups track trends and reduce opportunities for polluters to avoid scrutiny.
"The public relies on the media to get its information, and the media may not publish all the notices," she said. "But, keep in mind, those notices also go to the Riverkeeper groups. We consider it our jobs to know about these spills. Do we really want a situation where the Riverkeepers don't even know what's going on?"