Dalton Utilities and the Water, Light and Sinking Fund Commission of the City of Dalton, Georgia, will resolve violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and improve the water quality of the Conasauga River under a civil settlement announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD).
The Utility has agreed to pay a $6 million penalty and implement significant improvements to its system to ensure that wastewater programs are in compliance with the CWA. The improvements include implementation of its improved Pretreatment Program; implementation of operation and maintenance standards and procedures for its sewer collection system to prevent discharges of pollutants to waters of the State; implementation of the Land Application System (LAS) Water Quality Characterization Plan; and the discontinuance of the land application of sewage sludge in certain areas.
The settlement resolves allegations contained in a complaint that was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, on behalf of EPA and Georgia EPD, against the Utility in 1998. The State of Alabama, the Coosa River Basin Initiative, and the Weiss Lake Improvement Association later joined the action as plaintiffs. The Complaint resulted from EPA and EPD evaluations of all wastewater programs (i.e., wastewater treatment facilities, laboratory, sludge handling and disposal, land application system, pretreatment program, and sanitary sewer collection system) at the Utility. Major deficiencies were found in almost all aspects of the wastewater treatment programs. Specifically, the LAS was vulnerable to problems that cause wastewater to run off the site into surface waters. These violations resulted in the addition of pollutants to groundwater and the Conasauga River and its tributaries through inadequate pretreatment and runoff from the LAS areas. Many of the violations were initially discovered during the criminal investigation of Dalton Utilities. The investigation ultimately resulted in the entry of a criminal plea by Dalton Utilities on September 9, 1999 for falsification of reports it submitted to Georgia EPD.
The City of Dalton, through the Board of Water, Light and Sinking Fund Commissioners, operates Dalton Utilities. The Utility operates, maintains, and manages the electric, natural gas, drinking water and sewage services for the City of Dalton and surrounding areas in Whitfield County. The Utility owns and operates three biological wastewater treatment facilities which have a combined design treatment capacity of 40 million gallons per day and treat more than 29 million gallons of wastewater on an average daily basis. Effluent from the treatment facilities is applied to field areas on the LAS site twenty four hours a day on a rotating basis. Approximately 4,800 acres of the LAS site are spray irrigated. Several streams flow across the LAS site to the Conasauga River, which bounds the LAS site on the north, west, and south. Another water body, Holly Creek, bounds the LAS site on the north.
While the State of Georgia exercises primary program implementation authority (i.e., permit issuance and enforcement), EPA retains an oversight role to address any violation of the CWA. Dalton Utilities did not come into compliance with the CWA despite the enforcement actions taken by EPD. Since 1977, EPD, the primary enforcement authority, issued fifteen Consent Orders to the Utility for the same type of violations discovered during the EPA wastewater programs evaluation.