EPA: Clean up streams or else

By Diane Wagner

Recent rains may be filling local reservoirs, but the record-breaking downpour this month is aggravating as many problems as it solves.

"In Henry, much like Clayton, the water that drains from the land you live on eventually comes out of your drinking water faucet," said Mike Thomas of the Clayton County Water Authority.

That means fertilizer, yard clippings, roofing tar, pet waste, and other products of urban activity are finding their way into local rivers and streams.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has listed nearly 800 miles of stream segments in metro Atlanta that exceed the total maximum daily load (TMDL) allowed for specific pollutants. The state has until August 31 to submit clean-up plans or face a moratorium on sewer system expansions.

"Basically everyone, and all our actions, are contributing to these problems," said Matt Harper of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Two segments in Henry County and one in Clayton County are on the list.

Conley Creek, north of Fort Gillem, tested too high for fecal coliform bacteria, as did Big Cotton Indian Creek near Stockbridge. Possible sources include stormwater runoff, leaking septic systems, sewer overflows or illegal connections, and animal waste.

"Septic tanks are not as big an issue in Clayton as they are in Henry," Thomas said, noting that Clayton's larger population meant that county had to begin working on controls a decade ago. "But there's also the issue of (homeowners) building a second bathroom with the pipe going out to the storm drain."

Henry County, which was mainly rural until a continuing growth spurt began in the 1990s, is just launching its stormwater management program to protect water quality.

Brown Branch, near Locust Grove, is one of the few segments listed because sediment is harming the fish and aquatic creatures in the stream. Unpaved roads, new urban development and previous agricultural activities are possible sources.

"Locust Grove is an old farming community," Harper said. "Whatever happened back then is still in that creek."

Harper led a public hearing in Henry County last week as part of a program aimed at addressing non-point sources of pollution.

Point sources, such as factories and water treatment facilities, must apply for discharge permits and their activities are closely monitored. Non-point sources, such as the man down the street who pours his old engine oil down a storm drain, are not.

Mike Lustri of McDonough said he's cited state and federal regulations to pressure several local businesses into "voluntarily" controlling their waste.

He hailed the recent shift in focus to include individual activities and public education.

"As citizens we have a moral and ethical responsibility to take care of our most valuable resource," he said. "And that is water."