News | August 3, 2016

SELC, Coosa Riverkeeper challenge Alabama wastewater plant polluting Choccolocco Creek

Today SELC and Coosa Riverkeeper filed a notice of intent to sue against the Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant in Oxford, Alabama for ongoing violations of its pollution discharge permit and for failing to follow reporting and monitoring requirements.

Samples taken by Coosa Riverkeeper in each of the past six months show that the Oxford Plant has discharged extremely high concentrations of E. coli, with some results showing levels hundreds of times greater than the permit allows. The Riverkeeper’s sampling results also show high levels of chlorine, which can harm fish and other wildlife. The plant failed to report any of these violations.

A majority of the violations have occurred at the outfall on Choccolocco Creek, a major tributary of the Coosa River and a popular place for paddling, swimming, and fishing, which is the base for Floating Fun, LLC, a prominent local tubing business.

The main access point for Floating Fun’s tube float trips is about one mile downstream of the treatment plant effluent. Less than 25 miles downstream from the treatment plant, Choccolocco Creek empties into Logan Martin Lake, another prime fishing spot frequently visited by boaters, paddlers, and swimmers.

Today’s filing notes that the Oxford Plant has continuously discharged pollutants at unpermitted locations, including illegal discharges of formaldehyde from Kronospan, a nearby fiberboard plant. The Oxford Plant has also submitted incomplete or inconsistent reports, has failed to report many of its noncompliance notifications as required by the permit, and has violated required sampling methods, with 800 monitoring violations in the last three years alone.

“By consistently violating its permit, the Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant continues to put the health of Oxford’s citizens and local businesses that depend on clean water at risk,” said Sarah Stokes, staff attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “The plant must comply with its permit requirements and report any violations in a comprehensive and transparent way.” 

The Geological Survey of Alabama, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have designated the area spanning from the treatment plant to the Coosa River as a “priority area for conservation action.” According to the Water Resources Center at Auburn University, Choccolocco Creek “may support the largest number of endangered and threatened species found in any Alabama waterway of comparable size.” The Creek also serves as an excellent fishery— it’s the home of the state-record redeye bass.

The Alabama Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are aware of some of the compliance issues and have instructed the plant to follow proper protocol around sampling methods and reporting, but the plant has failed to fix these issues.

The Oxford Plant receives discharges from 12 industrial facilities in the area, all of which are required to pay service fees to the wastewater facility. However, after 25 years of violations, the plant has received only one $20,450 fine in its history. To put that in perspective, the plant receives that much in one year just in fees collected from one of its industrial discharge customers.

“The Oxford community has a right guaranteed by law to fish, swim and paddle in a clean Choccolocco Creek, and the Tull C. Allen Wastewater Treatment Plant has taken away that right from its citizens,” said Coosa Riverkeeper, Frank Chitwood. “Where the government has failed to do so, we will hold the plant accountable for polluting our beloved Choccolocco Creek.”