Macon Water Authority reports Saturday sewage spill

Broadway spill ran into Ocmulgee River, agency says

jgaines@macon.comApril 23, 2014 

For the second time in three weeks, the Macon Water Authority has reported a major raw sewage spill from its Broadway Lift Station.

An estimated 31,640 gallons of sewage spilled into a ditch, which leads to the Ocmulgee River, for about 10 minutes shortly after noon Saturday, according to a report from Heather Veal, the authority’s capacity, management, operation and maintenance coordinator.

On April 7, a spill of at least 16,614 gallons occurred at the same lift station. Two other spills occurred that same day from manholes in Flint Rock Park and a site near Bowman Branch for a total of at least 129,000 gallons from those three spills.

Those spills and Saturday’s were all blamed on heavy rain overloading the sewer system. Quoting National Weather Service figures, Veal said 2.31 inches of rain fell in the area Friday.

Saturday’s spill was reported to the state Environmental Protection Division on Wednesday, Veal said in a news release. The area was disinfected with lime, and water quality monitoring will start Thursday.

With record rains last year and above-average rain this spring, the ground has stayed saturated for long periods, meaning further heavy rain will almost certainly cause an overflow somewhere, said Tony Rojas, the water authority’s executive director.

“We’ve always had spills in heavy rainfall periods,” he said. But in years past, such overflows have ranged into the millions of gallons, Rojas said. Those big spills have essentially been eliminated, he said.

“We’ve invested a lot in our sewer system to try and reduce spills,” Rojas said.

The water authority is spending $45 million on sewer system upgrades over six years, he said.

The state penalty for the overflow may not be known for months, but it shouldn’t be large -- even if it’s a compilation of fines for several spills, Rojas said.

“We pay a fine to the state for every spill,” he said.

But the water authority has an agreement with the state that lets it pay smaller fines than other utilities would, in exchange for heavy investment in system improvements, Rojas said. That keeps the price for spills of less than 200,000 gallons down at about $500, he said.

“Once you get over 200,000, you run into the thousands (of dollars),” Rojas said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.

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