A spill sent about 187,500 gallons of partially treated wastewater into Flat Creek late Wednesday night into Thursday morning, Gainesville officials said.
The city said in a news release the spill occurred due to an improperly closed valve at the Flat Creek Water Reclamation Facility on Old Flowery Branch Road. The spill lasted for just longer than 90 minutes and was described as a minor problem.
Horace Gee, environmental compliance manager for the Gainesville Department of Water Resources, said Tuesday that the water being spilled into the creek was in its final stages of treatment.
“It’s basically a final filtration process,” Gee said. “When the water finally reaches the tertiary treatment process, it’s cleaner than four permitted (plants) north of us. If I put it in a glass beaker along with tap water, you would not know the difference in the two beakers of water.”
No negative effects are expected for Lake Lanier or Flat Creek, according to Gee and the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, an environmental conservation group dedicated to cleaning and preserving Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River system.
Gainesville officials said it took a few hours for normal operations to resume at the plant after the problem was fixed. The valve issue was caused by an oversight by employees at the Flat Creek plant, who will be “dealt with internally,” including with additional training, Gee said.
Staff reported the spill to the state Environmental Protection Division, as required by permit, and the environmental compliance staff implemented the required testing and notification protocol Monday.
Dale Caldwell, the Gainesville-based watershed protection specialist with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said the group was alerted to the spill by the director of Gainesville Department of Water Resources, Linda MacGregor, soon after the spill was discovered.
“This seemed to be a very minor malfunction. I don’t think they we’re going to see any environmental impacts, any real negative environmental impacts,” Caldwell said on Tuesday. “... The numbers they shared with me were pretty low to where I don’t think this is going to be a concern.”
Gainesville also alerted the Lake Lanier Association to the spill, which was detected by a monitoring system that measures turbidity — or the amount of tiny, solid material suspended in the water leaving the treatment plant.
“It’s not ideal, but it sounds like they’re on it,” said Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association.
Cloud said she’s not gotten any calls from her membership about fish kills or odor. Given that the spill happened almost a week ago, it’s “consistent with what (the city) is saying, that it doesn’t appear there’s any environmental harm.”
Gee was adamant that the spill wouldn’t compromise the water quality of Flat Creek and Lake Lanier, saying that the water that was spilled was cleaner than the water that will flow into the lake after a heavy rain.
“There’ll be more impact on Lake Lanier in the next 24 hours because of Mother Nature than what we experienced on Wednesday,” he said.
Despite what officials described as a minor spill, Gainesville will have to send reports on water quality and the Flat Creek system to EPD for the next 12 months. Caldwell said the required reporting was going to be “exhaustive in comparison to what occurred” but that the regulations “are in place for good reason, and there’s a reason they’re doing what they do in this process.”