Originally created 03/03/00

Area wastewater plant investigates sewage upset



The operator of Augusta's troubled Messerly Wastewater Treatment Plant is investigating a series of "operational upsets" that caused poorly treated sewage to enter Butler Creek and the Savannah River.

The upsets occurred Jan. 27, 30, 31 and Feb. 2, said Paul Tickerhoof, Augusta project manager for OMI, a private company that took over the city's wastewater treatment program in August.

The plant discharges 32 million to 45 million gallons per day of treated sewage into Butler Creek, which empties into the river at Lock & Dam Park. The discharges on those days had excessive amounts of oxygen-demanding materials.

Oxygen demand is one measure of the quality of wastewater. Augusta's sewage is tested every five days for those parameters, Mr. Tickerhoof said, and failed only on those four days.

The maximum limit on oxygen-demanding materials is 45 parts per million. The amounts found during the upset ranged from 67.5 parts per million to 105 parts per million.

The cause was incoming sewage that contained high quantities of oxygen-demanding materials, which disrupted treatment for several days. The source of that upset is under investigation.

Augusta's Messerly plant has been under enhanced scrutiny in recent years by Georgia's Environmental Protection Division, which levied a $160,000 fine last fall for a series of sewage spills and other violations.

Jeff Larson, EPD's Permitting, Compliance and Enforcement manager, said state authorities will evaluate a report of the incident submitted by the city on behalf of its contractor, OMI.

It is too early to determine whether the violations will result in additional fines or administrative sanctions, he said.

"We're going to have to review the actual numbers to take a look at the relative impact," Mr. Larson said. "In light of the consent order that has been executed, we need to see if the operation of the facility is indeed improving."

Mr. Tickerhoof said the wastewater volume was high during the upset, which likely helped avoid any adverse impact on Butler Creek or the river.

Reach Robert Pavey at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 119.