COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL) — The back and forth continues between Columbus Water Works, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, an environmental advocacy agency and now the legal system is involved.
After many months of letting this play out in state court, a judge ruled in favor of a new permit for Columbus Water Work’s Combined Sewer System and the issue is as complex as it sounds.
Columbus Water Works was issued a new permit on Sept. 14 for their Combined Sewer System by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division after a ruling in state court, and on Oct. 4, they filed to appeal.
In a press release from the Columbus Water Works, the reason for the appeal is to protect the interests of costumers and the agency believes a hearing is valid to present the facts of their case.
News 3’s Blake Eason has been following this story for months, from the moment the permit was suggested, issued, and now appealed.
The big question is this: Is the water in the Chattahoochee River clean? The answer depends on who you ask.
Despite the recent court ruling, Columbus Water Works says the permit is not necessary because the water is clean, stating 99.5% of permitted discharge is storm water. Vice President of Columbus Water Works Vic Burchfield says they’ve got 25 years of data to prove it.
“Over the years it shows that the Combined Sewer System operates the way it’s intended to operate, and it does not impact the water quality in the river,” said Burchfield.
The Combined Sewer System is built to remove debris, sewage, and storm water discharges. This allows the Columbus Water Works the opportunity to treat the water before it’s released back into the river, but Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division argues it’s not doing enough.
The court ruling requires the Columbus Water Works to overhaul the Combined Sewer System to meet the new permit requirements.
“We believe that the new permit requirements will place a costly and an unnecessary burden on the Columbus rate payers without any additional benefit to the river water quality,” said Burchfield.
Meanwhile, Jason Ulseth with the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, an Atlanta-based environmental advocacy agency, was thrilled about the ruling. Ulseth says it’s been a longtime coming to keep river-goers safe.
“This issue is so critically important to the health of the river and the safety of the people coming out here. We were super excited the judge did rule in favor of the river and to put limits on fecal bacteria on what’s coming into this river from Columbus Water Works Combined Sewer System,” said Ulseth.
The Southern Environmental Law Center assisted the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper in the dispute.
In a press release from the Southern Environmental Law Center, the group is pleased with the new permit and is proud the courts recognize its level of importance.
“This decision will ensure that the health of the Chattahoochee River and surrounding communities, businesses, and visitors who depend on clean water have the necessary protections in place,” said April Lipscomb, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.
News 3 travelled alongside the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper for a tour of the Chattahoochee River. The area they say is most at risk runs through the heart of it all, downtown Columbus through the stretch of the white water rafting course, especially after heavy rain events.
“You still have a lot of people recreating after these rain events, and if you’ve ever seen anyone on the white water stretch, people get wet, people are touching this water, so it’s critically important that we try to keep as much E.coli out of it to keep people safe,” said Ulseth.
With Columbus Water Works planning to appeal the permit, it’s unclear if the new permit is expected to be upheld throughout the appeal process.
News 3 will continue to update this story as it develops.