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Atlanta water treatment leak sends E. coli surging in Chattahoochee River


The release of inadequately treated wastewater from Atlanta’s R.M. Clayton Water Reclamation Center has caused a significant increase in dangerous E. coli bacteria levels in the Chattahoochee River downstream, according to Jason Ulseth, executive director of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. The environmental organization is advising people to avoid the river downstream of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area due to the health hazard posed by the contamination.

The contamination was discovered in routine daily samples collected downstream from the Marietta Boulevard/Atlanta Road bridge in NW Atlanta Metro Atlanta. Although there hasn’t been an official sewage spill, mechanical failures at the Clayton plant, caused by rising water from the Chattahoochee River flooding the facility, led to the discharge of sewage into the river. While the plant remains operational, corrective and preventive maintenance is being conducted on several secondary clarifiers to remove additional pollutants.

Despite efforts to mitigate the contamination, E. coli concentrations around the facility’s outfall have been found to be alarmingly high, well above safe levels for recreation. The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper reported concentrations of fecal bacteria exceeding 120,000 units per 100 milliliters of water. Although there have been no fish kills reported as of March 13, the contamination poses a significant risk to public health and recreational activities in the affected areas.

Officials say drinking water in Fulton County and the metro Atlanta region remains unaffected by the plant failure.
The Atlanta Department of Watershed Management (DWM) is collaborating with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to address the elevated E. coli levels and ensure compliance with environmental regulations.

The incident underscores the need for ongoing monitoring and maintenance of water treatment facilities to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

The DWM says it is prioritizing compliance and infrastructure reliability to safeguard public health and the environment.


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