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Major Sewage Spill Continues at Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area after Recent Floods

Flooded picnic area.

Paces Mill fee station, picnic area, and parking lot as waters recede. Water topped the roof at the height of the flood. NPS photo.

Recent heavy rains in the Atlanta, Georgia, area have created plenty of misery for area residents, and cleanup at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area will take some time. Waters have receded, but the river remains closed to the public due to major problems from an ongoing release of raw sewage.

Areas around the park received up to 20 inches of rain early this week, forcing the operators of Georgia Power’s Morgan Falls Dam to open a total of eight flood gates. Numerous park facilities were closed in anticipation of major flooding, and that proved to be a wise decision.

Maximum river flow occurred at 11 p.m. Monday, with the river reaching 28.6 feet and flowing at 51,000 cubic feet per second (normal levels are 5 feet and 1,900 cfs). This was the second highest flow recorded since the river reached 29 feet in December of 1919.

The ends of the rainfall allowed closing of flood gates on the dam, and by noon on Wednesday the river was again fully within its banks. By 9 p.m. Wednesday, it had dropped to its normal level of five feet, but a return to lower water didn't signal an end to problems in the park. Reports from the park summarize the situation:

• River waters contaminated with sewage continue to present a public health issue. Numerous sewer manholes located along the river have been overflowing for the past three days, dumping millions of gallons of raw sewage in to the park. A significant sewer junction located in a major tributary was found to be missing today, washed away by the flood waters. Sewage continues to pour into the tributary and river with no estimated repair date available. The water level is still too high and swift for repair crews to begin any work.

• Some sewage treatment plants are still out of service due to flood damage and are dumping untreated sewage directly in to the river. A 25-mile-long segment of the river was posted closed to all use yesterday for public safety reasons after consultation with the US Public Health Service. This closure will likely remain in effect until all sewage can be contained and properly treated.

• Damage assessments have begun, but are limited as many areas remain covered by contaminated debris and siltation up to two feet deep in places. Additional damages discovered yesterday included a second automatic fee pay station, boat ramp, gravel roadways washed out, and more downed trees.

• The two park dams were inspected and found to be safe, so Island Ford was reopened at 10 a.m.

• Some local roads surrounding the park remain closed due to debris left by high water that covered roadways and bridges. Some of the bridges have been declared unsafe after inspections and will need to be replaced. These bridge closures increase the distance and time necessary to travel between park areas.

The park is assembling teams of employees to begin hiking all 50+ miles of park trails to document damages beginning Friday. A U.S. Public Health Service officer and regional emergency services coordinator will review safe work and cleaning practices with the park staff on Friday morning.

Ten park areas remain closed, with rangers continuing to enforce closures to ensure public safety. These areas will likely remain closed until next week to allow the sewage-contaminated debris to dry and become inert. One closed area was reopened illegally by unknown people and had to be re-secured this evening by rangers.

There was one piece of good news: The search underway for a missing and presumed drowned 32-year-old male was called off when he was located at an evacuation shelter in good condition.

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