More tests done for bad Augusta water

City taking steps after Sunday report in The Chronicle

Monday, Aug 23, 2010 4:40 PM
Last updated Monday, Sept. 13, 2010 9:31 PM
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Augusta officials on Monday widened their scrutiny of water quality in downtown areas identified in an Augusta Chronicle analysis as having elevated levels of fecal coliform bacteria.

"Sampling began today to track the source of the readings in Beaverdam Ditch at Laney-Walker," said Garrett Weiss, the manager of the Augusta Engineering Department's Stormwater & Environmental Section.

"We will also be collecting samples tomorrow morning to begin tracking down the source of high concentrations in the Olde Town area," he said.

The contamination came to light as part of a project published Sunday, in which The Chronicle tested water samples from 50 locations in Richmond, Columbia and Aiken counties.

Fecal coliform bacteria indicates the possible presence of pathogens. 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.

High bacteria levels found in the Augusta Canal's third level and in Beaverdam Ditch near Laney-Walker Boulevard highlight a common problem with sewers and storm drains that city officials have been studying for some time -- and are moving to correct, Weiss said.

"The problems in the Beaverdam area we've known about, and we're finally getting some action," he said, adding that the high levels are likely linked to old, hidden sewer lines not properly linked to sanitary sewer systems.

"That area has ancient infrastructure," he said. "We know where it's coming out, but we don't know where it's coming in because it's all underground. You have to grid it out and conduct tests street by street. It's Sherlock Holmes stuff."

Corrective action, he added, is slow and expensive, but such projects have been under way for decades and likely will continue.

Today, a new round of sampling in the Olde Town area will be undertaken by the Augusta Utilities Department, Augusta Engineering and Augusta State University.

Samples tested by the university's microbiology lab as part of the newspaper's analysis showed spikes in fecal coliform bacteria near two storm drains in that area, but city officials initially were unable to duplicate those findings.

Retests late last week by the city and the university, however, both indicate elevated levels of fecal coliform -- even if there was no identifiable source.

Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said the initial discrepancy could have been the result of differences in how the samples were processed.

"I think we delivered them to the lab without proper instructions, so they didn't do the proper dilutions," he said. "Our samples came back high this time."

Results from the newest round of tests could be available as early as Wednesday, Wiedmeier said.

Finding the source, however, could take more time. Officials found no odors in manholes or other telltale signs, he said.

As part of the new round of sampling, Augusta Riverkeeper will also draw new water samples from the deeper, fast-flowing Savannah River channel as part of an effort to gauge water quality for the Sept. 26 ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta triathlon, in which thousands of swimmers will compete on a 1.2-mile swimming course.

"We will have good data on where the swimmers will actually be swimming," said Tonya Bonitatibus, the group's director.

Even if elevated bacteria have been found near the shoreline storm drains, water quality in the river's main channel is expected to be fine, she said.

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Riverman1
121177
Points
Riverman1 08/23/10 - 08:14 pm
0
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So you mean to tell me we

So you mean to tell me we have sewer lines that just empty raw sewage into the environment? How long would they have let this go on if the Chronicle hadn't printed the story? The EPA needs to get involved fast. The guy up at Grovetown went to prison for letting raw sewage empty into the environment.

Riverman1
121177
Points
Riverman1 08/23/10 - 10:27 pm
0
0
"Utilities Director Tom

"Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said the initial discrepancy could have been due to differences in how the samples were processed.

“I think we delivered them to the lab without proper instructions, so they didn’t do the proper dilutions,” he said. “Our samples came back high this time.”

In addition to having sewer pipes that are not even hooked up to the system the department has been conducting faulty testing that said the water was safe when it wasn't. This is getting to be absurd.

Fishboy
29
Points
Fishboy 08/24/10 - 06:50 am
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What's absurd is making

What's absurd is making assumptions based on only one or two samples. I'd love to hear what quality control steps were taken (e.g., duplicate samples, field blanks, etc.). The city is doing the right thing by taking a measured approach to tracking down the problem areas

disssman
6
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disssman 08/24/10 - 06:51 am
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0
Is this the same canal we

Is this the same canal we have been cleaning, so people could cayak down it. BTW swimming in the main channel is a great solution to the ironman problem, until you realize that you have to come ashore some time. I really didn't know there was a barrier between the main channel and the shoreline water. If someone gets sick from e-coli because of the ironman, and the city knew the water was polluted, who is legally at fault?

johnston.cliff
2
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johnston.cliff 08/24/10 - 07:21 am
0
0
In the early '70's, when the

In the early '70's, when the downtown redevelopment started, many of the buildings on Broad St were found to have sewer systems that dumped into the storm drain. These were addressed and the apparently common situation in the older parts of the town has been addressed as money was available. This situation has been a priority project. It's a huge project and is ongoing. This article just informs us that the effort isn't complete, but that it is still ongoing.

Little Lamb
56878
Points
Little Lamb 08/24/10 - 07:48 am
0
0
Dissman, city and state

Dissman, city and state governments have a nifty provision called “sovereign immunity” that protects them from sue-happy citizens. If someone claims to have gotten sick from swimming in the Savannah River, the city does not have to pay one dime of their doctor bills.

Riverman1
121177
Points
Riverman1 08/24/10 - 09:50 am
0
0
The EPA will fine any

The EPA will fine any community that's dumping raw sewage into the river for any reason. Since the clean-up of our rivers in the 70's the standard has been not to allow any untreated discharge.

Riverman1
121177
Points
Riverman1 08/24/10 - 10:17 am
0
0
Another point, the river

Another point, the river through Augusta is not constantly moving and clearing out dirty discharges. Because of Thurmond Dam and three other damns, much of the day the river is not flowing. Remember a few years ago when they had the raft race and the rafts wouldn't move because the river was stagnant? That makes this untreated sewage entering the river even more dangerous.

Emerydan
10
Points
Emerydan 08/24/10 - 12:32 pm
0
0
Thank you, Augusta Chronicle

Thank you, Augusta Chronicle for bringing this story to light. This is the type of investigative journalism we need more of in the CSRA. I've noticed over the last 8 months, the AC has done a lot more in depth investigative journalism pieces.. I like this trend for the paper.

faithson
6661
Points
faithson 08/24/10 - 01:10 pm
0
0
worked with a water

worked with a water department inspector in the late 80's that was nearing retirement. He had worked on these old lines across the county for 40 years. He knew just about every old line not found on the existing maps. He really helped my out a few times when taps were needed. The county to cut off its nose to spit its face did not offer this guy a retainer to come back in and help when he retired. He got his retirement pay, but no renumeration for all that 'knowledge' he had in his head. He told me to heck with the county. Why the county let this man go without tapping him for information was beyond me at the time. So goes the shortsightedness of those past administrations.

faithson
6661
Points
faithson 08/24/10 - 01:17 pm
0
0
If you have ever seen or

If you have ever seen or worked on some of the old concrete pipe running under the streets of Augusta you would know what a monumental task it is to locate these old systems. I worked on one on Reynolds street in the early 90's that was not on the map and got punctured. No fun.

disssman
6
Points
disssman 08/24/10 - 04:55 pm
0
0
Johnsoncliff. Where did you

Johnsoncliff. Where did you find information on priorities assigned to projects? In fact where did you see anything having to do with rhis project?

disssman
6
Points
disssman 08/24/10 - 04:56 pm
0
0
See, if only we had let

See, if only we had let Margaret dig up the whole downtown, maybe she would have found some bad pipes. I wonder how many bad pipes we could have found with the money we have given to the high priority non-profits over the years. I really wonder when that little project will rear its ugly head again.

Harrisburg Homeowner
0
Points
Harrisburg Homeowner 08/24/10 - 06:13 pm
0
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If they want to find out

If they want to find out where raw sewage is being dumped, just come to 2043 Starnes Street. Complaints have been made about this for over three years now. The landlady sent her son-in-law to fix it because "it cost too much money to hire a plumber" to do it right. Code enforcement was supposed to monitor the repairs but that did not happen. It stayed "fixed" for a short time, but now the sewage smell (and sewer rats) are returning. The sewage line now has a direct opening to the air. The tenants have recently moved out so maybe the smell won't get as bad as it did before it was "repaired" earlier this year.

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