The Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) which is an organization made up of a network of leaders from various smaller organizations and other people who fight to protect and care for Georgia’s water resources released a new report last week called “Georgia’s Dirty Dozen.” The report brings to light 12 issues that the GWC feels are the biggest concerns/dangers to our water resources in the state.
The concerns range from several rivers being plagued with coal ash pollution to state budget cuts to deal with environmental issues to changes in federal legislation to the state’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) and their ineffectiveness at enforcing clean water standards. Each concern that the GWC explains in their report should cause people to think about it.
The issue affecting the Buford area is that of Lake Lanier and the pollution being dumped into the lake on a regular basis. Lake Lanier supplies five million people with water or 72% of metro Atlanta. To say that lake is our lifeline would be an understatement. Many local government water suppliers get their water directly from Lake Lanier including the City of Buford, Gwinnett County, and Hall County. The report zeros in on unsafe discharge from water treatment facilities which is just one of multiple sources polluting the lake. There are 33 public and private water treatment facilities that dump treated wastewater into Lake Lanier.
Lanier’s water quality depends on these water treatment facilities being properly maintained and monitored to ensure the safety of the water they dump into the lake. Unfortunately, the EPD has been ineffective in enforcing water quality standards. In the GWC’s report, it states that the “EPD has taken 465 enforcement actions since 2017 under the state Water Quality Control Act.” These enforcement actions usually involve small fines that have not ended the pollution. It is often cheaper for these “violators” to pay the fines than it is to fix the actual source of the problem.
The worst offender on Lake Lanier is the sewer plant at the Baker and Glover Mobile Home plant off of Cleveland Highway in Hall County. Their residents discharge 18,300 gallons of waste to their treatment facility daily which is then released into tributaries of the Little River which ultimately spills out into the lake. The mobile home sewer plant has violated its state permit on numerous occasions spilling high levels of fecal bacteria and nutrients like phosphorus into the lake.
Baker and Glover Mobile Home treatment facility have had 14 fines levied against it since 2008 for violating its permit. The fines have ranged from $100 to $440 and if one totals up all their fines it comes to only $2,200. The GWC calls these fines a mere “slap on the wrist” and have not motivated the owners of the mobile home park to make the changes to the facility to prevent these spills from happening again.
The EPD has been ineffective in their role of protecting our water source with such minor penalties of pollution violations to Lake Lanier. In the report, the GWC states, “EPD must take enforcement actions that deter future violations of pollution control permits. These actions must include impactful fines that reflect the severity or repeated nature of violations and are substantial enough to force operators to end the pollution. EPD must also require and enforce detailed compliance schedules that include necessary investments in treatment plant upgrades.”
To see the Georgia Water Coalition’s full report, please visit https://www.gawater.org/resources/dirty-dozen.
— By Alicia Couch Payne