On Thursday, June 29, results from water quality tests conducted by Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (CRK) revealed dangerously high E. coli bacteria levels in the Chattahoochee River within the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA). On Friday, June 30, the CRNRA announced the initial closure of six miles of the river within the river park from the Chattahoochee Nature Center south to Johnson Ferry to protect public health and safety.
CRK tracked the source of the pollution to the wastewater discharge originating from the Big Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Fulton County. As a precautionary measure and based on results from additional water quality testing, the CRNRA expanded the closure of the river to all sections of the river park downstream of the Chattahoochee Nature Center. CRK has been collecting and testing water samples throughout the area of concern and coordinating with Fulton County Public Works, the CRNRA, affected outfitters, and local and state agencies to address the ongoing discharge.
Please find additional information regarding the discharge below.
Did the discharge pose a risk to public health?
Water quality testing revealed E. coli bacteria levels almost 300 times higher than the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended limits for recreation in the area of the CRNRA affected by the spill. These levels posed serious risks to public health, especially for vulnerable populations such young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. The CRNRA posted signage at access points along the affected area indicating the closures due to elevated bacteria levels.
Which sections of the river were affected by the discharge?
The CRNRA closed all sections of the river park downstream of Chattahoochee Nature Center (river mile 315.5). On Monday, July 10, the CRNRA announced that the river would reopen from Powers Island to all downstream sections of the river park. On Wednesday, July 19, the CRNRA announced that all sections of the river park were reopened. Water quality tests of the affected sections of the river are meeting EPA recommended levels for recreation. Visit www.nps.gov/CHAT for the latest information on closures within the river park.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released more water than usual from Buford Dam to help dilute the sewage contamination. CRK also collected emergency daily water samples within the CRNRA and areas downstream to understand the impact of the contamination.
Sections of the river upstream of the Chattahoochee Nature Center and as far downstream as West Point Lake should not have been affected by E. coli bacteria contamination resulting from the Big Creek Water Reclamation Facility discharge. CRK conducts weekly water quality testing at sites throughout the Chattahoochee River watershed; these results may be viewed on our website.
Was drinking water affected by the discharge?
Drinking water in Fulton County and the metro Atlanta region is safe and was not affected by the spill. All source water is treated to meet drinking water standards.
What caused the sewage discharge?
The source of the sewage contamination was identified as a malfunction at the Big Creek Water Reclamation Facility in Fulton County. It disrupted the water treatment process at the plant, which treats more than 20 million gallons of sewage each day.
The ongoing discharge of pollution is a violation of the Clean Water Act. It has been reported to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD).
When did the closed sections of the river reopen?
CRK continued daily sampling and coordinating with the CRNRA to monitor bacteria levels in the water, and the river closure remained in place until water quality data supported reopening. On Monday, July 10, the CRNRA announced that the river would reopen from Powers Island to all downstream sections of the river park. On Wednesday, July 19, the CRNRA announced that all affected sections of the river park were reopened.
On Thursday, July 6, Fulton County officials reported that healthy microorganisms were being trucked in to treat the E. coli contamination in the river and improve water quality. The county reported that the biological process in the treatment facility were improving.
What is the impact of the discharge on wildlife? Is it safe to fish?
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is monitoring the impact of the discharge on wildlife. As of Thursday, July 6, there have been no indications of a fish kill as a result of the discharge. During the river park closure, it remained safe to fish sections of the river upstream of the Chattahoochee Nature Center and downstream of West Point Lake.
Last updated July 20, 2023.
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