State investigating sewage spills in Columbus

By Lindsey Connell - bio | email | Twitter

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -  Columbus Water Works officials say their sewer system has been hit hard by this year's record setting rainfall.

"The system is essentially not designed to carry the amount of water that's getting into the system right because of the water coming in from the rainfall. Seventy four inches of rainfall is what's causing the problem and not a deterioration of the system," said Jim Patterson, Senior Vice President of Environmental Programs and Communications for Water Works.

"I think in this case, storm water is getting to the pipes and the pipes have been designed for certain capacities. It goes over the capacity because rainwater is getting in it and then the manholes overflow," said Marzieh Shahbazaz, Unit Coordinator for the Georgia EPD's Compliance and Enforcement Division.

Last week, 64,000 gallons of sewage spilled into the Chattahoochee River from a 10 minute overflow along the Riverwalk.

Then this week, thousands more flowed into Lake Oliver and Lindsay Creek.

Now, both the state and Water Works are working to flush out the problem.

"It has been diluted by rainwater but there's still waste water because of the overflow and it gets to the river. It's adding some type of pollutants to the river like fecal coliform and other solids," Shahbazaz said.

"There's no immediate damage caused by those wet weather flows when they're small like that. They dissipate almost immediately and there's no remaining results from that," Patterson added.

Out of the 1,200 miles of sewer Water Works has in Columbus, officials say there's only a handful of spots where these spills have been happening.

"We will continue to work on those areas and try to reduce the amount of rainfall that's getting into the lines in those spots," Patterson said.

EPD agents say the investigation into the spills and evaluation of what needs to be done should take about two months.

They also say Water Works could face fines but none have been issued so far.

In 2005, Water Works was fined $56,000 for similar spills but company officials say that was all the result of a contractor error during construction.

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