By John Schaffner
Atlanta’s RM Clayton wastewater treatment plant was brought back on line earlier than originally thought (Sept. 25) — at least partially treating hundreds of thousands of gallons of raw sewage a day before it is dumped into the Chattahoochee River from the plant.
The partial quick-fix at RM Clayton Water Reclamation Center in northwest Atlanta was made possible through the commandeering of spare parts from the city’s South River and Utoy water reclamation centers in south Atlanta.
The RM Clayton plant’s secondary treatment system is still offline, meaning the releases from the plant into the Chattahoochee remained only partially treated a week after the plant was put out of operation by the flooding of the Chattahoochee River.
However, the primary and tertiary treatment systems and all the Combined Sewer Overflow facilities located around the city are working properly, according to reports from the city’s Department of Watershed Management.
No totally untreated raw sewage has been discharged into the river since 10:30 pm on Sept. 22, according to DWM officials.
Utilizing parts from the other two treatment plants allowed department staff to repair two of the four banks of ultraviolet lights that provide the final stage of treatment for wastewater flowing through the RM Clayton facility at Bolton Road and Marietta Boulevard just west of Buckhead.
The lamp banks were broken as floodwaters from the Chattahoochee inundated the plant.
Ultraviolet light kills fecal bacteria. Additional parts to repair the remaining two light banks were expected to be at the plant within days.
DWM personnel and contractors have been working around the clock to pump the remaining river water out of the plant, clean mud from equipment and roads, repair systems and assess the damage, still estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars.
“I can’t say enough about the effort our staff has put forth to get RM Clayton back online,” said DWM Commissioner Rob Hunter. “Through their work, they dramatically reduced the amount of untreated sewage that went into the river from the plant.
Hunter continues to urge people to stay out of the river, noting that aside from the presence of bacteria from raw sewage, river levels remain high and dangerous.
City officials said the river rose some 12 feet outside its banks and flooded into the plant. The rising river also flooded out sewage pump stations nearby, causing them to fail as well.
According to one engineer observer who talked with plant personnel, the water first entered the plant from across Bolton Road, before the river rose high enough to breech eight-foot dikes that were built to protect the plant it was originally constructed. The flood waters, however, finally did flow over the top of the dikes.
The $131 million Nancy Creek sewage tunnel was overwhelmed by inflow of rainwater. So the 8-mile long tunnel, which flows under north Buckhead, was overflowing a combination of raw sewage and rainwater. The rains also flooded the city’s $190 million deep storage tunnel for combined sewage. That 8.5-mile long tunnel holds 177 million gallons of combined sewage for treatment at a separate plant on the RM Clayton site. That plant did not flood, but the full tunnel allowed combined sewage to spill from CSO units around the city, including the Tanyard Creek unit in lower Buckhead.
By mobilizing all available personnel and resources, the Department was able to pump floodwaters out of the plant, which began receiving sewage flows and providing treatment at about 70 percent of normal on Sept. 23. Commissioner Hunter termed the effort “heroic.”
Plant Manager Rob Bush and Bureau of Wastewater Treatment and Collection Deputy Commissioner David St. Pierre said the Nancy Creek Tunnel, which flows from DeKalb County through Buckhead to the plant to relieve sewer and storm water overflows, was brought online at about 3 am Sept. 23.
Hunter said the department still cannot offer a timeline for complete repairs and to have the plant operating at 100 percent capacity.
Built in 1935, the R.M. Clayton plant is the largest in Georgia with capacity to treat 240 million gallons of sewage a day. It’s also connected to the city’s controversial combined sewage overflow tunnel, which was designed to hold about 177 million gallons of sewage and rainwater. The plants normal treatment capacity is 180 million gallons a day.
The city’s drinking water plants faired well and there are no issues with drinking water and no boil-water advisories were in effect.