News | March 1, 2019

Clean water prevails in agreement with Alabama sewage treatment plant

Under a recent settlement agreement, an Alabama wastewater treatment plant with a history of violations will undertake needed upgrades. For decades, the Oxford Wastewater Treatment Plant has illegally discharged polluted wastewater into Choccolocco Creek, a popular tubing and fishing site. At times, the plant was discharging wastewater with E.coli readings 122 times over its permitted level according to sampling by the Riverkeeper.

History of Violations

There were more than 1,200 sewage discharge violations documented by the plant itself, as well as 46 different violations documented by the Coosa Riverkeeper. (@Coosa Riverkeerper)

The settlement reached on behalf of SELC’s client, Coosa Riverkeeper, requires the plant to fund a comprehensive engineering analysis by an independent engineering firm to identify needed improvements and implement all improvements recommended in the report.

“After a lengthy history of violations, our hope all along has been to reach an agreement that addresses the issues at the Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant,” said Sarah Stokes, SELC senior attorney. “The terms of this settlement include necessary upgrades that will greatly improve the facility, and it is encouraging that the Oxford Water Works & Sewer Board is investing resources in this plant to ensure better protections going forward.”

Most importantly, the plant will make infrastructure upgrades and improvements to operations and maintenance, including:

  • replacing several force mains (large sewage pipes and their corresponding pumps or compressors) and older manholes,
  • replacing and automating its disinfection system,
  • installing a new mobile monitoring system and operations software, and
  • undergoing an independent audit of plant sampling procedures.

The plant will also fund an independent collection system analysis, which will identify leaking pipes and prioritize those that require immediate attention. Informed by this analysis, the plant has agreed to complete future projects over the next five years that limit the level of rainwater infiltration in the system.

The litigation was initiated in 2016 based on 1,200 violations documented by the plant, as well as on 46 different violations cited by the Coosa Riverkeeper. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management responded and brought its own case based on the 1,200 violations. SELC intervened in the state case and filed a parallel federal action, based on the violations identified by Riverkeeper. Despite an attempt to dismiss the federal case, the case proceeded, leading to this good result.

SELC and Coosa Riverkeeper now will turn their attention to ensuring the agreement is properly implemented.

“As long as all of the measures laid out in the settlement agreement are followed accordingly, we are glad to have reached a resolution that is more protective of Choccolocco Creek and the communities of Oxford,” said Coosa Riverkeeper Frank Chitwood. “Especially as local residents and visitors are heading to Choccolocco Creek as their go-to destination for swimming, tubing, paddling, and fishing in the warmer months, these improvements hopefully mean a healthier creek.”