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.