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Why Lake Lanier made Georgia’s 2019 ‘Dirty Dozen’ list
11152019 DIRTY
Every day up to 18,300 gallons of sewage from Baker & Glover Mobile Home Park flows through a private wastewater treatment plant before being released into tributaries of Little River that lead to Lake Lanier. Photo courtesy Dale Caldwell, Chattahocchee Riverkeeper.

Lake Lanier is listed this year in the Georgia Water Coalition’s annual Dirty Dozen report, which highlights 12 of the worst offenses to Georgia’s water. 

The coalition, comprising organizations working to protect Georgia’s water since 2002, turned its focus to the private wastewater treatment plant at Baker & Glover Mobile Home Park in Gainesville. The plant has repeatedly violated the law and polluted Lake Lanier, according to the report. 

Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, director and riverkeeper with the Coosa River Basin Initiative in Rome, said the coalition has a committee that vets nominations and puts together the annual list. He said they try to find localized issues that have statewide implications.

The coalition found the plant, operated by the property owner of Greenleaf Investment Partners, is polluting Lake Lanier. 

“When the residents of the small Baker & Glover Mobile Home Park in Hall County flush their toilets, their sewage — up to 18,300 gallons a day — courses through pipes to a small wastewater treatment plant on site before ultimately being released to tributaries of the Little River, which flows into Lake Lanier,” the report stated. 

The plant has violated its state permit multiple times by dumping high levels of fecal bacteria and nutrients like phosphorus into Lake Lanier.

The coalition found that the wastewater treatment plant’s violations have resulted in 14 fines imposed by the Environmental Protection Division since 2008. The latest violation was in September, according to Dale Caldwell of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. 

They reported that the fines against the facility have ranged from $100 to $440, totaling to $2,200. 

The report calls the fines slaps on the wrist.

“The Baker & Glover sewage plant is just one example of this troubling trend of weak enforcement of water pollution control permits by EPD,” according to the report. “While EPD has taken 465 enforcement actions since 2017 under the state Water Quality Control Act, often these punishments involve small fines and do not result in ending the pollution.” 

Caldwell, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s headwaters director, said he has kept his eye on Baker & Glover Mobile Home Park for quite some time. 

On Sep. 11, 2019, Caldwell sent a letter to the EPD’s director of district operations on behalf of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. His comments were in regards to the most recent EPD consent order with the property, which addresses the repeat water quality and National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit violations from the park’s wastewater treatment plant. 

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s mission is to advocate for and secure the protection and stewardship of the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries, watershed and lakes, including Lanier. 

The organization partners with EPD by collecting monthly samples each year between April and October at 10 locations on Lake Lanier. 

Caldwell said in the letter that “a history of low fines issued by Georgia EPD has not resulted in investments to the facility that would improve treatment and protect receiving water quality.”

Instead of taking action to ensure the plant’s compliance, Caldwell said the EPD has been issuing small fines, allowing them to continue their business. 

“This is not the only facility in our headwaters region around Lake Lanier that’s getting hit with these multiple petty fines,” Caldwell said. “A few others have been identified, too.”

He said some of these other water quality permit violators in the upper Chattahoochee include Dixie Mobile Home Park in Hall County, Polo Golf & Country Club in Forsyth County and LHR Farms Inc. in White County. 

Caldwell said by paying these small amounts, the property operators are using their funds for the fines and not for improving their facilities.

“There’s no incentive to upgrade, that’s the problem,” he said. “It’s this culture and political climate here where fighting pollution is not a heavy priority. Hopefully Greenleaf Management will clean up their act because Greenleaf doesn’t seem too green right now.”

Greenleaf acquired Baker & Glover Mobile Home Park in mid-January 2019.

Kathryn Vignati, compliance manager at Greenleaf, said since obtaining the property, the organization has been working toward reaching compliance with the EPD.

She said the code violation in September “was a result of increased water flow due to rainfall.” So far, she said no fine has been assessed, but it is ultimately at the discretion of the Georgia EPD.

Soon after purchasing the property in Gainesville, Greenleaf partnered with the Environmental Management Services in Tate to maintain and monitor the waste systems weekly. 

“At the recommendation of EMS, we recently upgraded to a new aerator, which ensures acceptable oxygen levels,” Vignati said. 

She assures the public that Greenleaf will continue to work in close partnership with the EPD to ensure ongoing compliance. 

“Greenleaf is fully committed to investing in our communities and providing a sense of home for every resident,” Vignati said. 

The Georgia Water Coalition states on its website that the annual report serves as a “call to action.”

For Lake Lanier, the coalition calls the EPD to take enforcement actions that “deter future violations of pollution control permits.” They also ask the EPD to require and enforce detailed compliance schedules that include the needed investments in treatment plant upgrades. 

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper does its own work to put the spotlight on those responsible for polluting Lake Lanier, including sending comment letters to the EPD and letting property owners around the lake know about its problems.  

“I hear people say all the time, ‘I wouldn’t dare swim in that dirty lake,’” Caldwell said. “Let’s not just sit back. As a society, let’s demand better from our government, from our plant operators, from our industries and fix the problems.”