Georgia court orders City of Columbus to protect drinking water, tourism
Judge rules in favor of more stringent wastewater permit during heavy rain
COLUMBUS, Ga. — A state court has ruled in favor of Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) in the Columbus Water Works’ (CWW) lawsuit challenging the legality of its new combined sewer system permit. The decision requires CWW to protect the Chattahoochee River and the tens of thousands of people who fish, boat, and swim in the river year-round.
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.
During heavy rain events, the city’s raw sewage often overflows into the river, which is a popular fishing, boating, and whitewater rafting destination. EPD issued a new wastewater permit in Nov. 2020 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. “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.”
“Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has long advocated for transparent monitoring and robust treatment of wastewater discharges in Columbus and across the basin,” said Jason Ulseth, Riverkeeper and leading advocate for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. “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.”
The Southern Environmental Law Center is one of the nation’s most powerful defenders of the environment, rooted in the South. With a long track record, SELC takes on the toughest environmental challenges in court, in government, and in our communities to protect our region’s air, water, climate, wildlife, lands, and people. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the organization has a staff of 170, including 90 attorneys, and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., with offices in Asheville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Nashville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C. southernenvironment.org
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s mission is to educate, advocate and secure the protection and stewardship of the Chattahoochee River, including its lakes, tributaries and watershed, in order to restore and conserve their ecological health for the people and wildlife that depend on the river system and in recognition of the important ecosystem functions provided throughout the region and planet. Established in 1994, the nonprofit organization is the 11th licensed program of more than 350 within the international Waterkeeper Alliance. Since its inception, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has now grown to include more than 10,000 passionate members.