Controlling industrial stormwater runoff is a daunting challenge throughout the Chattahoochee River Basin. Our watershed is home to thousands of industrial facilities that operate equipment and store materials outside, which are exposed to precipitation. For example, food-processing facilities may discharge bacteria; auto salvage yards may discharge oil and grease; metals manufacturing may discharge zinc, arsenic and chromium; and agricultural chemical production may discharge nutrients.
The state Environmental Protection Division issues a permit to regulate the discharge of pollutants in stormwater to our rivers, lakes and streams from 28 types of industrial facilities. This permit sets requirements for best management practices, inspections, water quality monitoring and reporting that industrial facilities must do.
How CRK Makes a Difference
CRK has found that hundreds of industrial operations in the Chattahoochee River watershed are not fully complying with clean water laws. We notify each industry that we identify that it may be discharging without a permit in violation of the Clean Water Act, or that it may be failing to meet the terms of the permit. Our goal: achieve compliance from 100 industrial facilities by 2017.
If you see an industry discharging potentially polluted stormwater into our waterways, report it online or by calling Jason Ulseth at 404-352-9828 ext. 16.
Gainesville Poultry Plants Pollute Lake Lanier Tributary
Each day in Gainesville, often called the “Chicken Capital of the World,” approximately 8 million pounds of chicken are processed and sent to market. Many of these processing facilities are situated along Flat Creek, a Chattahoochee River tributary they have polluted for decades as untreated stormwater flows off their sites. As a major tributary to Lake Lanier, the source of drinking water for 4 million Georgians and a recreation site for 7.5 million annually, the pollution of the creek poses an urgent public health threat.
In 2009, a local citizen called Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (CRK) to report dead fish floating in Flat Creek. We immediately reported the incident to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) which investigated and found “gray-colored sludge, floating debris and putrescent foam” near several chicken-processing plants. Concerned that stormwater polluted with bacteria from the chicken plants might be contaminating the stream, CRK initiated a long-term monitoring program.
Our diligence finally paid off when tests conducted on water samples collected at several storm drains revealed bacteria levels that were consistently more than 10,000 times the level recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These drain pipes flow directly into the creek from plants owned by two of the largest chicken producers in the United States: Pilgrim’s Pride and Mar-jac. However, eventually our monitoring efforts, along with state and federal investigations, confirmed the scope of the facilities’ pollution in Flat Creek.
In July 2014, CRK and City of Gainesville employees conducted an investigation and discovered an illegal discharge of bloody water and chicken guts into the creek from Mar-Jac’s stormwater outfall. Despite multiple attempts to include the EPD, they did not engage in further investigations. However, the EPA, conducted surprise investigations at both Mar-jac and Pilgrim’s Pride in the fall of 2014. The agency released their reports this spring, issuing Notices of Violations at both facilities, highlighting multiple Clean Water Act violations, including documentation of chicken feces, maggots, and blood near storm drains. Click on the links to read the EPA reports for Mar Jac and Pilgrims Pride.
Thanks to your support, our efforts are finally bringing this serious issue to light, including a recent feature on the front page of the AJC’s Sunday edition. EPA’s enforcement actions require the plants to clean up their facilities, ensure there is no further pollution, and will likely include a substantial fine.
We urge you to take action to ensure that the responsible parties clean up their act and pay for the damage that has been done to Flat Creek and Lake Lanier. You can contact EPA’s Water Protection Division director, Jim Giattina to urge the EPA to follow through with enforcement action. Let’s take action and work to deter other corporations across Georgia from putting profits before our health and our local economy.