The Columbus Water Works has a long history of being a responsible community partner. December 31st, 2020 marks the 25th anniversary of our investment of more than $100 million to construct a nationally recognized combined sewer overflow (CSO) control program that continues to protect our community and the Chattahoochee River today.

The combined system, located in an older section of town covering about 2% of the land area of Columbus, removes debris and treats stormwater before discharging to the river. The system has significantly improved water quality in this part of the river – helping revitalize our downtown that now supports a beautiful Riverwalk and world-class whitewater rafting amenities attracting thousands of visitors each year.

Today (December 10th, 2020) we are filing an appeal to the state’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) revised permit for the CSO system which adds costly and unnecessary requirements. This appeal is limited to the CSO system permit and not related to the quality of the drinking water that we provide. The river water quality through Columbus meets regulatory standards. The EPD permit changes would force our customers to invest millions more with no real benefit to the river quality – placing an unfair burden on our community at a time when we’re already facing financial challenges from the pandemic. If the appeal is successful for Columbus, the river will continue to be of high quality at no additional costs. If unsuccessful, substantial costs will be incurred by our customers to “fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”

The Columbus Water Works team has collected and tested thousands of water samples on our CSO system, including eight years of monitoring the middle stretch of the river in Columbus. This proactive approach (above and beyond state and federal requirements) prompted the EPD and EPA in recent years to remove our section of the river from its list of surface water bodies impaired by pollutants, meaning it is no longer impaired by bacteria. Nothing has changed to warrant additional requirements on our CSO permit.

While we can’t support the permit changes, we remain a strong community partner in protecting the quality of our river and doing our part as responsible stewards of the environment and community resources. For us, it’s personal. Our employees and families live and work here.

We’re proud of our important role providing vital services that support the quality of life we all enjoy.

Chattahoochee River Quality FAQ


Q: Why is the Columbus Water Works appealing its combined sewer overflow (CSO) system permit with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD)?
A:
  • The Columbus Water Works must renew its state permit for the combined sewer overflow (CSO) system every five years. 

  • In the revised permit, the EPD has added significant new requirements which would force Columbus Water Works customers to pay millions more in new projects that will provide no real benefit to the river’s water quality.

  • This appeal is limited to the CSO system permit and not related to the quality of the drinking water that we provide or the water returned to the river by our wastewater treatment plant. 

  • Columbus Water Works has tested thousands of samples in recent years that indicate the river is not impaired, including eight years of monitoring performed on the middle stretch of the river.

  • Although EPD agrees the CSO control program is a great achievement and has demonstrated continued compliance, the agency continues to push for significant changes to our permit that will result in Columbus citizens paying for additional controls and monitoring that will not measurably benefit the river’s water quality.

  • If the appeal is successful for Columbus, the river will continue to be of high quality at no additional costs. If unsuccessful, substantial costs will be incurred by our customers to “fix a problem that doesn’t exist.”

  • At a time when our community is facing financial challenges due to the pandemic, Columbus Water Works customers should not be forced to bear the burden of paying for new projects when the water quality in the river already meets regulatory standards. 
Q: What is a combined sewer overflow (CSO) system? How does it work?
A:
  • Columbus citizens invested over $100 million in the 1990’s to construct a combined sewer overflow (CSO) control program, including two major treatment facilities and a conveyance system. 

  • During dry weather (normal conditions), the combined sewer system ensures that wastewater is collected and moved to the South Columbus Water Resource Facility for treatment.  

  • During wet weather, stormwater run-off from streets and other hard surfaces in the downtown area combines with wastewater flows triggering the combined treatment facilities to come online to effectively remove debris and disinfect flows before discharging to the river. 

  • This system supports flows from about 2,600 acres in an older part of downtown Columbus -- roughly 2% of the total geographic area of our community. Many communities do not even collect and treat their stormwater. 

  • This innovative approach to control combined sewer overflows (CSOs) in Columbus won a National First Place Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).   
Q: How do you ensure the system is working properly?
A:
  • For over two decades, Columbus Water Works has operated these facilities and proactively sampled the river to demonstrate the combined sewer system discharges do not negatively impact the river’s water quality. 

  • In fact, the CSO control program resulted in an 800-fold improvement in the river water quality through Columbus, and we continuously monitor the system and river to ensure it remains effective. 

  • These improvements helped transform the Chattahoochee River bank into the beautiful Riverwalk our community enjoys today. December 2020 marks 25 years since these facilities provided the catalyst for the progressive revitalization of the river through Columbus.
Q: Will this issue impact our drinking water?
A:
  • No, this issue has no impact on the quality of our customers’ drinking water. Our water quality experts conduct thousands of tests in our award-winning laboratory to ensure drinking water meets or exceeds health standards.

  • View our most recent annual water quality report
Q: Is the river water quality good and safe for recreational use?
A:
  • Bacteria exist in all rivers and streams coming from a variety of sources and communities, including run-off during significant rain events. Our CSO control program was designed specifically to capture debris and disinfect storm flows from the downtown area before discharging to the river.

  • The Columbus Water Works team has collected and tested thousands of water samples on our system and the river – above and beyond state and federal standards. The combined sewer system meets regulatory requirements.

  • This data provides evidence that the section of the Chattahoochee River through our community has excellent water quality and prompted the EPD and EPA in recent years to remove our section of the river from its list of surface water bodies impaired by pollutants, meaning it is no longer impaired by bacteria. Nothing has changed to warrant additional requirements on our CSO permit.

  • The Chattahoochee River through Columbus is now arguably one of the cleanest sections of the river in the state and supports world-class whitewater recreation amenities that attract thousands of visitors year-round. 

  • While the state has not yet designated our stretch of the river for recreation beyond fishing, over the past eight years, Columbus Water Works has proactively monitored water quality in this area to ensure it meets recreation standards in support of the new whitewater amenities. Our monitoring shows that the river meets recreational water quality standards today.
Q: What else are you doing to keep our river clean?
A:
  • Columbus Water Works has a long history of being a responsible community partner. For over a century, we have delivered reliable services and operated systems 24/7 that protect our customers and the environment.

  • For us, it’s personal. Our employees and families live and work here. We serve an important role in supporting the quality of life we all enjoy.

  • We’re continuing to sample and test water quality along the river near our operations.

  • We have offered to expand our water quality monitoring program to include more locations along the river to provide greater public assurance that our operations are not impairing water quality in the river.

  • We have agreed to install signs near our system outfalls on the river to inform the public about the potential increase in bacteria and debris caused by major storm events.

  • Our ongoing support of community partners, like Keep Columbus Beautiful and the Chattahoochee River Conservancy, is furthering protecting the river and supporting our thriving downtown Riverwalk amenities.

  • The Chattahoochee River is important to us, and we are dedicated to protecting it, keeping it safe and clean while being responsible stewards of our customers’ money.