Bacteria level in river spurs probe

High contamination detected below 2 drains

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The Augusta Utilities Department is trying to find the source of high levels of fecal coliform bacteria entering the Savannah River through two downtown storm drains.

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Andy Weed directs Tonya Bonitatibus, not pictured, to a drain in order to take water samples. Two samples taken from the Savannah far exceeded Georgia's bacteria limits for recreational waters.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Andy Weed directs Tonya Bonitatibus, not pictured, to a drain in order to take water samples. Two samples taken from the Savannah far exceeded Georgia's bacteria limits for recreational waters.

"There was a problem in that area before, with a sanitary storm sewer connection, but they couldn't find anything this time," Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said. "We're continuing to look for the cause, though, and we will chase it down and fix it."

The contamination came to light as part of a project by The Augusta Chronicle in which water samples from more than 50 locations in three counties are being analyzed as part of a broader story -- to be published Sunday -- on water quality and bacteriological monitoring.

Georgia's recreational water standard for fecal coliform is no more than 200 colonies per 100 milliliters of water. However, samples from the river near two storm drains -- an upper one at Fourth Street and a lower one at Forsythe Street -- were much higher.

The sample near Fourth Street yielded readings of 2,600 colonies, of which about 700 were E. coli. The Forsythe Street sample yielded 21,000 colonies, but only 100 were E. coli.

Fecal coliform bacteria indicates the possible presence of pathogens, according to Georgia's Environmental Protection Division. E. coli in particular is an indicator of fecal contamination because it is associated with warm-blooded animal wastes. Their presence does not necessarily mean pathogens are present, but it indicates a potential risk to human health.

Frank Carl, a retired Medical College of Georgia professor and former director of Savannah Riverkeeper who teaches certification classes for bacteriological monitoring, said the high levels could present a health concern for anyone swimming in that area.

"Those are very high numbers," he said. "Personally, I wouldn't swim there until this can be corrected." Boaters, including those participating in Saturday's Paddlefest, probably have little to fear, he said.

The upcoming ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta triathlon is scheduled for Sept. 26, with thousands of swimmers competing on a 1.2-mile course that passes both of those storm drain outfalls.

Bill Burke, the race organizer, said Ironman events are held in many locales that have storm drains, and they are rarely a concern. The swimmers, he noted, follow a swim course in the river channel and would not swim in storm drain outfalls.

Last year's Ironman event, he said, was held in the same location, with advance water-quality sampling and guidance from Carl and Savannah Riverkeeper.

"Unless Dr. Carl tells me we have something to be concerned about, then I won't be," he said, noting that this year's event will have more than 3,000 participants, and possibly as many as 3,500, making it the largest event of its kind in the world.

Carl said that sampling before last year's Ironman detected elevated bacteria levels in the same area but that the Augusta Utilities Department quickly identified the problem and corrected it.

That problem, he said, was traced to an apartment complex on East Boundary where a sanitary sewer line was clogged with fat.

"There was a storm sewer just a few feet away, and when the sanitary sewer filled up and overflowed, it ran over into the storm sewer," Carl said.

Once the source of the current high levels can be corrected, bacteria levels will subside rapidly, he said. Additional sampling will be done before the Ironman event.

Wiedmeier said city officials will try to track down the source, but noted that fecal material can also originate with any animal waste, not just human activity.

"It's always possible the source is not a sanitary sewer, but we are looking to confirm or unconfirm that," he said.

The samples taken for the newspaper project were analyzed during the weekend at Augusta State University's microbiology and genetics laboratory under the supervision of Carl and ASU biology professor Donna Wear.

Reach Rob Pavey at (706) 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

Coming Sunday

What's in your water? The Augusta Chronicle has collected samples of water from more than 50 publicly accessible areas and tested them for the presence of fecal coliform bacteria -- a harbinger of disease-causing organisms.

What did we find? The results might surprise you.

Comments (40) Add comment
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Laguria
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Laguria 08/16/10 - 05:43 pm
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Check the Columbia Cty Waste

Check the Columbia Cty Waste Treatment discharge that is upstream of the water intake to the Highland Ave. drinking Water Treatment ctr. Lag

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 08/16/10 - 05:48 pm
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Heck, check between the

Heck, check between the Clark's Hill Dam and the Lock and Dam at Bush field. I bet the source will be located between I-20, and the Lock and Dam!

montega12
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montega12 08/16/10 - 05:57 pm
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oh my so theres only a

oh my so theres only a certain amount of feces that should be in our swimming water...........cool

montega12
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montega12 08/16/10 - 05:58 pm
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and what do you mean a

and what do you mean a sanitary line was clogged with fat have restaurants been dumping stuff where they arent supposed to

jiclemens
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jiclemens 08/16/10 - 06:14 pm
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Well, Bill Burke, Dr. carl

Well, Bill Burke, Dr. carl said, "Personally, I wouldn't swim there until this can be corrected." 3500 participants wouldn't have something to do with it?
Here's the rest of the story, when coliforms are detected in abnormal amounts:
Municipal and rural water supplies can transmit human diseases such as cholera (Vibrio cholerae), typhoid fever (Salmonella typhi), shigellosis (Shigella), salmonellosis (Salmonella), and gastroenteritis (Campylobacter jejuni, Escherichia coli, Giardia lamblia). The threat of such disease transmission becomes more serious as the population density increases and more sewage pollutes public water supplies, carrying with it human intestinal pathogens. Rather than test water directly for pathogens, which can be difficult, expensive and even hazardous, researchers use indicator organisms to assess the possibility of fecal contamination. Fecal coliform bacteria, members of the family Enterobacteriacae, which include Escherichia coli , Citrobacter, Enterobacter and Klebsiella species, are often used as indicators.

I can see why Dr. Carl would not swim in the river.

Timco1949
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Timco1949 08/16/10 - 06:31 pm
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I was wondering why there are

I was wondering why there are no Stripers below the Lock and Dam'but the people all the way to Savannah love the water.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/16/10 - 07:30 pm
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So who is going to jump in

So who is going to jump in the fat filled "sanitary" drain and unstop it?

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/16/10 - 07:48 pm
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The river requires adequate

The river requires adequate outflow from Thurmond Dam and careful monitoring of what's put in the river. But what's amazing is how well the river cleans itself up with adequate flow.

I'll bet the study the Chronicle is doing will show that the oxygen quanity in the river in the Columbia County portion is decreased because the water comes from the bottom of the lake. That's why the aerators at the dam are important. But the river naturally cleans and oxygenates itself with good flows over a vegetation filled distance. Because the river is such a dynamic, living artery, it's important to realize lessening it's liquid volume affects the vegetation and aquatic life just as a person with low blood volume suffers the effects of anemia.

With adequate flows, all the mega pollution Richmond County contributes to the river is negated by the time water hits Clyo. Oxygen levels there are normal.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/16/10 - 08:01 pm
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Good points, RM. But I must

Good points, RM. But I must remind everybody that "adequate" is in the eye of the beholder.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/16/10 - 08:22 pm
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Note the only reason we know

Note the only reason we know about this high bacteria count in the river is because of the Chronicle’s study. That’s what bothers me. We would have never known if a private entity hadn’t informed us and the Utilities Director. What bothers me the most is that it has happened in the past and has not been corrected. The director acts like it is a great mystery he has to solve like Sherlock Holmes.

The apartment complex on East Boundary is not named. Why? Has anyone checked this drain again? Also, someone explain to me about a “sanitary drain.” Doesn’t the apartment complex have city sewage? Is there some kind of open drain with sewage sitting there?

Mayor Deke Copenhaver is going to participate in the upcoming triathlon. He should be screaming the loudest about the ineptness of the Utilities Dept. After all he is going to be one of those swimming with his mouth open in the river, but have we heard anything from Deke? Not a doggone word.

Deke needs to be in Paris, trying to speak French and pretending he understands art in the Lourve. I mean it’s like he is an Augusta expatriate trying to write bad poems like Gertrude Stein. Deke, sewage (you know what I wanted to say) is sewage is sewage is sewage.

Can we please get a real mayor, city manager, any doggone body, who knows the telephone number of the Utilities Dept.?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/17/10 - 07:46 am
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Excellent points, RM. Just

Excellent points, RM. Just remember, though, that the Director of the Utilities Department (Tom Weidmeier) reports to Fred (What, me worry?) Russell, not Mayor Copenhaver.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/16/10 - 08:31 pm
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LL, I know, but that's the

LL, I know, but that's the way Deke always gets off the hook. It's time he does SOMETHING.

In my last sentence above I did go after Fred, your favorite...heh, too, even if I didn't mention his name.

Heck, you and I could run the city better than they do on our lunch hours using cell phones.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/16/10 - 08:45 pm
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I think you are correct,

I think you are correct, RM.

:-)

Ole School
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Ole School 08/16/10 - 09:01 pm
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GO DOWN river !! below the

GO DOWN river !! below the airport and look to the right on the way down , you will see the crap you speak of , they say it is a acceptable amount but let that amount keep running and only fine the companies a few thousand when they are making millions .... well I guess as long as the local politicians get their pockets padded that is all that matters ..... to heck with us whom love the outdoors and fishing and hunting .. and most of all to heck with mother nature ......... Augusta , Richmond co. look around soon the Savannah will be a waste water treatment plant ! keep up the good work...... fools.......

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/16/10 - 09:41 pm
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I respect the sentiments Ole

I respect the sentiments Ole School expresses. We have great fishing and habitats of ocean birds all the way to the lake. We have seagulls further inland than anywhere I know of.

In addition to our fishing here in Augusta, when the river hits the area right above the city of Savannah it forms a transition zone. Fresh water meeting salt water provides an area where the nutrients of the fresh water stream make it one of the most productive habitats for aquatic life and birds anywhere on the planet. Shrimp and oysters depend on that fresh water from the river.

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 08/16/10 - 09:54 pm
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Timco1949, there are Stripers

Timco1949, there are Stripers below the Lock and Dam. You just have to hold your mouth right, and live good to catch em! :o)

Sargebaby
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Sargebaby 08/16/10 - 09:56 pm
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What Riverman stated! In

What Riverman stated! In addition, that transition zone (brackish water) is possibly some of the better fishing on the river!

flipa
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flipa 08/16/10 - 11:08 pm
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LL; Your gonna LUV this, Ha

LL; Your gonna LUV this, Ha haha
From The what goes around, comes around dept; Fred (who me worry) and his Marshal wife's riverfront home is right down river on the same side as both these drains. (I should know I used to have a home there too) Although they don't swim in that part of the river their irrigation system is pumping river crap all over their lawns and flowers. “Your flowers smelling a little funny there Fred? No that’s not atheletes feet ya got their bra.” Ha hahah
So how does this come around? The FAT plugging the drains comes from all the expensive high dollar EBT food the PROJECTS there put down their drains. That plugs up those drains on a regular basis & breeds up river rats big enough to kill small dogs which is what is causing their having e-coli all over their lawns. So the TAX USERS buy VOTES from those who sell their votes resulting in tax users walking all in their crap. The irony is tax users have e-coli all over them as a result. What goes around, comes around. I personally have never had a problem with Fred although the city did prevent me from creating over 1,000 new jobs. Today they only prevented me from creating about 50 new jobs. So at least they're getting “better”. I thought you might get a laugh out of knowing the very ones who sell their votes are pumping crap all over those who buy them. Ha ahha haha ahaahhaaha

Rob Pavey
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Rob Pavey 08/17/10 - 05:57 am
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You folks make great points

You folks make great points here. It also shows there is genuine interest in how much bacteria is paddling around in our lakes and streams. Laquiria, we did indeed sample the Columbia County wastewater outfall you mentioned; Sargebaby, we not only checked Clarks Hill (several places) but we remembered to drop by the Bush Field area, too. RM - you are a scholar on environmental issues - we aren't covering 02 this Sunday but have addressed that facet of water quality before - and will again. I'll also say Aug Utilities is both compatent and aggressive in fixing these things and jumped on this one asap. Our city is 200 years old, so there will always be more to fix. Thanks to all of you for reading our stories, and we hope you enjoy what we're cooking up for Sunday.

tbonitatibus
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tbonitatibus 08/17/10 - 06:37 am
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Rob is right in what he says.

Rob is right in what he says. This city is one of the oldest in the country, so our infrastructure is as well. I am afraid that really fixing these problems will require SIGNIFICANT investments (increased taxes) so I would urge all of you to think about it from that angle, and hopefully support it. I do have to say that the utilities department is doing a much better job and recognizing and fixing problems then they have done in the past. Are our problems big...yes, but at least the city is now not denying it, they are trying to tackle it head on. At this point I support Tom W, the utilities department has only gotten better since he took it over.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/17/10 - 06:55 am
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Actually, the normal way to

Actually, the normal way to pay to fix sewer infrastructure is from sewer rates, not taxes. Goodness knows the sewer rates are high, but I won't be surprised when they go higher.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/17/10 - 07:26 am
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Rob says, " I'll also say Aug

Rob says, " I'll also say Aug Utilities is both competent and aggressive in fixing these things and jumped on this one asap."

Rob, I understand your position and Tom is probably a nice guy (geez, how many times do I say that about city officials), but someone has to take responsibility and be proactive on this issue (and all issues).

Apparently, this is an ongoing problem that should have been fixed a long time ago. How many times has this high bacteria count occurred without us knowing? It probably has been a continuous problem is what's obvious.

Fix what's causing the problem and keep an eye on things. Wouldn't we expect a private company to perform in such a manner?

stickmen
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stickmen 08/17/10 - 07:33 am
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What's the latest?

What's the latest?

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/17/10 - 07:42 am
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Flipa, talking about Fred

Flipa, talking about Fred (What, me worry?) Russell and his lovely wife, wrote:

. . . their irrigation system is pumping river crap all over their lawns and flowers.

Flipa, Savannah River water is entirely suitable for irrigation. Don't let "shock" journalism ruin your perspective.

On another subject, do you remember two or three summers ago when we were in a deep drought and the Golf & Gardens Hall of Fame trustees decided not to buy city water to keep some of the flowers alive? They had all the Savannah River water they needed fifty feet away and they wouldn't even run a hose and use a pump to water the flowers.

Riverman1
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Riverman1 08/17/10 - 07:48 am
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LL, yeah, that was something,

LL, yeah, that was something, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway. The faster the place is turned into an open green space the better.

Little Lamb
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Little Lamb 08/17/10 - 08:01 am
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That brick wall around the

That brick wall around the place is so uninviting, especially since 13th Street is a "gateway" to visitors and tourists. I say, “Mr. Copenhaver, tear down this wall!”

(Sorry to get the comments off topic of your story, Rob.)

Tell it like it is
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Tell it like it is 08/17/10 - 08:42 am
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Inapt leaders lead to inapt

Inapt leaders lead to inapt problems. Mullet Deke shouldn't worry mullets are bottom feeders anyway. All what me worry Fred will do is raise homeowners taxes. I should call him smiley because he always looks like he is going to do something sneaky with that little smirk on his face.

walrus4ever
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walrus4ever 08/17/10 - 09:10 am
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Hmmm... fecal contamination?

Hmmm... fecal contamination? Check the drains from the Municipal Bldg.

fontana
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fontana 08/17/10 - 10:06 am
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I can't believe the Ironman

I can't believe the Ironman contestants are scared of a little contaminated water. Take a drink and shut up.

flipa
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flipa 08/17/10 - 10:10 am
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Instead of raising

Instead of raising everybody’s taxes so the EBT crowd can pour more grease down our drains and clog the BRAND NEW DRAINS as well why don’t we do the common sense thing and FINE the living daylights out of the EBT crowd or anyone else that pours all their grease down the drains? Grease doesn’t care if the drains are brand new or not. Grease will still clog a BRAND NEW DRAIN. There is nothing wrong with the drains. The ones downtown only need to be cleaned out, they are FINE just clogged. There is something wrong with the folk who pour their Grease down our drains. No matter how brand new the drains are they will be clogged in about 3 months if they have buckets of grease poured down them. As far as that part of the river being OK. The REST of the river is GREAT. I’ve tested it myself before I swim or do jetski tricks called “submarines” in it. (flipa don’t dive into NO filthy water). I can SMELL it. All I’ve ever done is be on the water. To test that section where I lived I took a sterile Petri dish & something for the bacteria to eat, put some water in it from my boat dock and let the colonies grow. What I saw made me sell that river home and start looking for one up river or on the other side.
Common sense… it’s just not so common anymore…ha ahah

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