News | September 22, 2021

Georgia ruling ensures safer Chattahoochee River

Last week a state court ruled in favor of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division in the Columbus Water Works’ lawsuit challenging the legality of its new combined sewer system permit. The decision requires CWW to protect the Chattahoochee River, an iconic water source where tens of thousands of people fish, boat, and swim year-round. 

“CWW had the only wastewater permit in the state that did not have limits on the amount of bacteria discharged into a river. This new permit put an end to that to protect the health and safety of everyone recreating on this stretch of the river,” said Jason Ulseth, Riverkeeper and leading advocate for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

The Southern Environmental Law Center intervened on behalf of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper in the dispute, which involved the level of treatment required for mixed sewage and stormwater discharges by CWW. 

Locations of Columbus Water Works combined sewer outfalls into the Chattahoochee River

During heavy rain events, the city’s raw sewage often overflows into the river, which is a popular fishing, boating, and whitewater rafting destination. In Nov. 2020, EPD issued a new wastewater permit that includes more robust limits on how much bacteria may be discharged, but CWW challenged the permit. The Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings ruled in favor of protecting the Chattahoochee River in its dismissal of CWW’s lawsuit challenging the more protective permit for the combined sewer system discharges. 

“We are pleased that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and the Court clearly recognize that a stronger permit is necessary for our state’s largest river system,” said April Lipscomb, senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.

A report released in 2016 by American Rivers ranked the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin as the top most endangered river in the U.S. 

Lipscomb adds, “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.”