State regulators enforce pollution rules along ‘Hooch near Columbus

A middle Georgia water system will have to comply with pollution limits aimed at protecting the water quality of a popular stretch of the Chattahoochee River known for whitewater rafting after a state panel rebuffed its objections, although a legal challenge is likely.

The Columbus Water Works has fought water quality regulations that it says the state is relying on to require monitoring for fecal coliform bacteria where wastewater from its combined sewer and stormwater system enters the river – as opposed to farther downstream.

The city system is one of a handful of older systems in Georgia built to collect rainwater runoff and domestic sewage in the same pipe.

“What we’re talking about here is the potential to discharge untreated domestic sewage into the river,” Jac Capp, chief of the Watershed Protection Branch, said during a virtual meeting held Monday. “So, we do believe that there is reasonable potential to violate the water quality standards for bacteria when that is happening.”

But the Columbus system, which has hired Atlanta-based King and Spalding, has signaled that it might take the state to court over a requirement it calls unnecessary, costly and bureaucratic.

Lewis B. Jones, a partner with King and Spalding who is representing the system, said in a statement Monday afternoon that Columbus Water Works has made $100 million in improvements at its facility – improvements he said EPD approved. It would cost another $2 million to comply to comply with the permit requirements, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, Jones said.

“To be clear, Columbus Water Works is 100% committed to protect the Chattahoochee River. We work and raise our families here and understand that a healthy river is essential to our quality of life,” Jones said.

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