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Stinky water case: Misdiagnoses and delayed responses

Fayette’s stinky water problems appear to have mostly dissipated.

Water System Director Tony Parrott said Tuesday that his office has received only one complaint about water since Sunday, and that caller appeared to have a situation unrelated to the problem that distributed millions of gallons of bad smelling, and bad tasting, water to Fayette homes and businesses for a period of more than three weeks.

With the help of a water treatment expert contracted by the county and also the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, the problem was narrowed down to two chemicals emitted by blue-green algae, a tiny plant that grew both in Starr’s Mill Pond — the water intake point — and in the holding pond for fresh water at the Crosstown Water Treatment Plant itself. Despite the bad smell and odor the water was never dangerous to drink, county officials have said from the beginning.

Parrott also said the county is instituting daily raw water tests to determine if there are problems with the water before it enters the water treatment plant for processing.

Parrott issued an apology Friday because in his words it took “too long” to fix the problems with the smelly water that led residents and restaurants to seek bottled water and other resources to cook and drink with.

“I truly apologize for the inconvenience we created for our water customers,” said Parrott. “The problem took too long to resolve and I want to assure the public that we have implemented daily raw water testing to assure we are obtaining water of the highest quality into the treatment facilities.”

Anyone with lingering taste and odor problems with their water is urged to call the water system at 770-461-1146.

It took dozens of angry calls from irate water customers and many days before the system technicians finally figured out they had fingered the wrong culprit — a water temperature inversion — and the wrong lake — Lake Peachtree — as the source of the problems.

In addition to finding the true source of the problem at the Starr’s Mill Pond, the county’s water treatment expert from CH2M Hill also found a problem with the lagoons used to hold “backwash water” from the Crosstown Water Treatment Plant which contained solids from when the filters were cleaned at the plant. Those lagoons, used to allow solids to separate from the water, had not had sludge removed since 1999, county officials have said, yet the water from those lagoons was being recycled back into the plant’s treatment process.

A contractor was working on removing the sludge from one of the two lagoons Monday after the lagoon was drained by the Peachtree City Water and Sewer Authority, which was pumping the water to its sewage plants for treatment. The removal process used a blast of pressurized water to loosen the sludge so it could be pumped out to a truck for off-site disposal.

Photo below shows piping installed by WASA to pump sludge to a sewer manhole 2,700 feet away. Photo/John Munford.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has signed off on all the remediation at the Crosstown Water Treatment Plant recommended by the county’s consultant.

Water tests from the Starr’s Mill Pond that came back May 29 showed high readings of two byproducts of the blue-green algae: geosmin and 2-methylisoborneol (MIB), county officials said. The geosmin was also found in the raw water reservoir at the Crosstown Water Treatment Plant, where water is stored prior to being treated at the plant, officials said.

WASA General Manager Stephen Hogan said handling the lagoon water was not causing any difficulties at WASA’s sewer treatment plant and was very similar to the authority handling a heavy rainfall, which brings more water into the system for treatment.

“It looks just like a rain event to us,” Hogan said.

WASA was able to use its emergency contractor to lay pipe extending from the lagoon area to a sewer manhole about 2,300 feet away. From the time WASA was asked to assist, the pipe was in place some 36 hours later, officials said.

Hogan lauded WASA staff for pitching in to help the water system while also continuing to handle their regular duties.

WASA Chairman Mike Harman said the reason WASA was able to help so quickly is because it had an existing contract for emergency sewer pipe construction, which allowed for a quick mobilization of the contractor at a fixed cost based on the pipe size.

More photos of the dredging operation below:








Gee, thanks Cal and Company. Now we get the true picture. Over 7 feet deep, this sludge pit is.

Think of an ice rink 7 feet deep with solid ice. You need a jackhammer to come in and break up the ice.

This is what has been sitting since 1999 in these lagoons. What is left over from AFTER our drinking water has been filtered. So solid they needed an industrial sized pressure washer to come in and loosen it up.

Any guesses on the bill to loosen it up?

How about the bill to haul it away?

How about the bill to the county water system to have the WASA contractor lay down a half a mile of piping on a federal holiday weekend to drain the liquid out of these lagoons before they started the jackhammer to loosen the sludge below..(good thing it was at a fixed cost).

How about the bill to have WASA treat that water they drained out before they started the jackhammer to loosen the sludge below?

How about those guys not wearing any protective equipment? A hard hat? How about a hazmat suit and a respirator?

How about what their wives mutter under their breath when they hear these words, "Honey, I'm HOME!".

How about I just sign off now and go lose my cookies?

Robert W. Morgan's picture

That's Negligence. And it should be fairly easy to find out who was responsible between 1999 and now. What you do is go back and see who inspected the lagoon prior to 1999, who recommended it be cleaned and who made it happen. Then you look at who filled those same jobs between 1999 and now and see if there's any communication about cleaning lagoons. If it was recommended and turned down - you've got your culprit. If no one mentioned it or inspected the lagoon, you have another culprit.

Or, you could just replace the guy at the top.

Live free or die!

It helped me with my diet last night when I couldn't eat after viewing.

What I don't understand is the testing procedures. Up until last week, the water dept did not test the water coming into the plant for treatment. If they didn't test the water, how could they determine if they had good water to start? Or if their treatment process was working properly. This is a basic high school science class experiment.

What if, god for bid, someone contaminated one of our lagoons? We take the water in for treatment and as it is tested on its way out, they find a problem. If there is a record of the water before and after treatment, one can begin to determine possible sources. Since we didn't have the testing in place, every employee would be a suspect.

Dennis Chase has been right all these years, and the county just ignores him.

Google sludge Its a pollutant. And we have been drinking from this for years.

NUK_1's picture

He's not the only culprit in this fiasco as he manages people that also are as clueless as he is, but it needs to start with his resignation immediately. If not, fire him, something that should have been done years and years ago for that matter.

tortugaocho's picture

Why not the whole WASA crew, too ? It took (1) WASA not doing required maintenance and (2) Fayette County Water being oblivious to the nasty water cycled in to a our drinking system. Both agencies were grossly negligent. I will bet they each have had engineering reports that they ignored that warned of these problems.

And why not City Council,too ? They recently were nosing around the Water and Sewer Authority and refused to re-appoint one guy because of some financing stuff. And yet City council can't even spot a huge crap hole filled with a foot of decades old human waste.

How many other sites are there that the public can't see because of the DO NOT ENTER ! signs ??? I will bet a bunch.

for the sludge issue. WASA removes sewage from the system, household and industrial waste and cleans it up and releases it into Flat Creek. They have nothing to do with our drinking water etc. The entire fault lays with Fayette County Water System. One could argue that the council should have gotten involved earlier on, however to pull WASA into the fray is completely unfounded.

NUK_1's picture

They tried to help even when they didn't have to.

tortugaocho's picture

I apologize to you and to WASA if I incorrectly included them in these failures.

Perhaps it's because we still don't understand what it is with all these issues that the City and the County are supposed to do and haven't done.

We just see all of these disappointments nationally and locally and we assume bad when perhaps we should not jump the gun. I am skeptical of all governmetal entities, especially those here in Fayette County connected to water, stormwater, etc. For now though, my apologies to the people at WASA.

I appreciate your apology to me, but it is not at all necessary. From me, you have every right to voice concern. Your voice is part of the great fabric that has made Fayette such a wonderful county to live in, especially when things go wrong.

Don't ever stop speaking out. Someone here will fill you in when the facts are a little different from your thoughts. Mine have been corrected on here more than once. After all, this The Citizen. Cal and Company have afforded us a wonderful forum to say our piece, good, bad or just plain ugly. We owe him a debt of gratitude for letting us "Have (Y)Our Say". Glad to be here and glad you are here, too.

NUK_1's picture

I also agree that tortugacho doesn't need to apologize for anything.

Thank you.

We have Boards / Authority's that are supposed to be our watchdogs.

The County's May 22 Agenda lists: Approval of past meeting minutes, Lake McIntosh Park Update, MIEX Update, and finally Water Quality Issues

I took a gander at quite a few of the meeting minutes and they are NOT impressive. One would expect to see an agenda with important items that need to be reported on such as: Budget, Maintenance / Equipment, Piping, Quality Control reports, Inspection Reports, ect... and expect to see these items and a report at each meeting.

The Boards / Authority's should be ashamed of meeting minutes and notes. Clearly, no one is managing the ship and they all need to look into the mirror.

here, they deserve our thanks and gratitude. FC Water System is responsible. They take in the water, they treat the water and they distribute the water after it has been made potable. FC Water System is overseen by the FC Board of Commissioners. There is also a volunteer committee called the Water Committee that meets once a month and does a report and written recommendations to the BOC.

WASA is responsible for our sewer. They take in the sewer, they treat the sewer and they dispose of the sewer. The only water WASA deals with is a small percentage they retreat and distribute to Planterra golf club and to a few of the city ball fields to irrigate with and that is called greywater.

WASA actually was a huge part of the solution here. They were finally asked by either the BOC or Tony Parrott or the EPD to help out. They have an existing contract with a company to do work for them in emergencies to lay piping down and have negotiated a contract price to do it. Within 36 hours of being asked to do it, at the start of Memorial Day weekend, WASA and their contractor laid almost a half mile of piping from the sludge lagoon and drained it.

WASA, at the request of one of the above, also tried to extract that dried sludge after the lagoon was drained of water and could not budge it. Way beyond what they normally do. So, another contractor was brought in at the direction of either the FC Water or BOC or EPD and is doing it or has just done it (photos above).

Again, WASA is to be commended here. They went way above to help out.

This is incompetence over a period of years by the FC Water System management and and years of BOC not doing proper oversight. I hesitate to fault a volunteer board, but they are to be held accountable, also. Probably somewhere in there will be regulations and rules at state and federal levels that have complicated what should have been done, too, especially if management at FC Water does not have a clue what those rules and regs are or how they should be implemented.

I totally agree that no apology was needed. The fact that you did however, adds tremendous credibility to your posts as someone with a conscience. Look forward to seeing more of your thoughts.

Thank you. More from you, too, hopefully. :)

S. Lindsey's picture

...Also funny how they didn't allow for a bid process.

Creating problems and spending Taxpayer money is what Government does best...

"Whoever claims the right to redistribute the wealth produced by others is claiming the right to treat human beings as chattel."

-Ayn Rand

Can you be more specific? You told what city about what? Who is "they"?

S. Lindsey's picture

not really I would be divulging company info and that would not be great for my career...

"Whoever claims the right to redistribute the wealth produced by others is claiming the right to treat human beings as chattel."

-Ayn Rand

You do realize that Fayette County Water is a separate entity from any
of the city's. Also as far as "the bid process", would it have been
much more effective in your opinion to have gone out on bid, spent
weeks waiting for the appropriate bids to be received and analyzed to
correct this issue, or just use the predetermined "emergency
contractor" to rectify the problem in 36 hours?

I'm sure Steve knows and, since he is himself a contractor who has done it before, could most likely have responded quickly(and perhaps at a lower cost).

S. Lindsey's picture

First yes I know...

Second... No when they discovered the issue 2 WEEKS AGO they could have put an emergency bid for 36 hour turn around...I get them all the time. Then the City could have spent the money to correct the issue wisely by using the best qualified AND made sure the price was correct....

"Whoever claims the right to redistribute the wealth produced by others is claiming the right to treat human beings as chattel."

-Ayn Rand

Just watching's picture

What has been said here in all these discussions that clarify or make me feel better about the quality of water that is coming into our homes now or in the past? I have no faith in the water that come into my pipes and not just because of our recent published problems.

People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security deserve neither and will lose both.

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