The Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has filed a petition to appeal a Forsyth County wastewater permit recently awarded by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
The permit, issued Aug. 18, grants the county the ability to release 6 million gallons per day of treated water from its Fowler wastewater facility into the Chattahoochee River.
The facility in south Forsyth currently discharges about 3 mgd, but the additional capacity for Fowler and the planned Shakerag plant are intended to serve future needs.
It's not the discharge amount, however, but the maximum levels of contaminants allowed that has the Riverkeeper group concerned.
High levels of phosphorus can cause algal blooms that deplete oxygen for living things, said Juliet Cohen, a representative of the organization.
She said the group is also concerned with the amounts of fecal coliform allowed, which increase the chance for viruses and bacteria.
Cohen said other permits recently issued by the EPD, including one for Forsyth County, had more stringent requirements for these contaminants.
The group worries that the EPD is "backtracking" on its limits.
A spokesman from the EPD said Friday he could not comment on the issue or any related matters until it is resolved.
Cohen said the Fowler facility, for which the permit was granted, is capable of producing better quality water than the permit allows.
"Why is EPD asking for something less than the county and the facility that they're building can achieve?" she said.
Forsyth County Deputy County Manager Tim Merritt said the Fowler treatment plant is capable of producing higher quality wastewater, but it would not be cost efficient or necessary to do so.
The phosphorus limit, for example, he said is "the limit determined by Georgia EPD water quality modeling that will cause no harm to the
Chattahoochee River or any downstream waters."
"This is also the limit for neighboring counties or cities and it makes sense that Forsyth would be held to an equal standard," he said.
Merritt said the fecal coliform levels also are consistent with other municipalities' discharge permits into the Chattahoochee.
While other Forsyth locations have more stringent limits, Merritt said those permits are for smaller streams with lower requirements and not comparable to this permit.
He added that the county's discharge "typically ... will be treated to a much higher level than required by permit."
The Fowler plant, one of five in the county, has not operated below requirements since opening in 2004.
The Riverkeeper group also hopes the EPD will reconsider the required levels in the permit since the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area in Roswell is downstream from the south Forsyth plant.
"There's a lot of people who fish, who tube, who paddle and who wade in the river, so that's a concern," Cohen said. "We want to preserve that use for recreation."
The group also noted that the river provides drinking water to about 3.5 million people.