Currently all the primary tributaries in the City are listed on the Georgia 303d list of impaired streams as partially supporting or not supporting “fishing” as a designated use. Atlanta’s streams and rivers are small in size/drainage area relative to streams and rivers in other urban areas in the United States, making them particularly difficult to manage for watershed integrity.
In 2003, the City of Atlanta initiated a comprehensive, Long Term Water Quality Monitoring Program (LTWMP). Mayor Franklin recognized that the City’s future economic growth, jobs, affordability and quality of life all depend on clean water.
Atlanta initiated this Long Term Water Quality Monitoring Program working with the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and a Technical Advisory Committee chaired by The Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.
One of the program’s primary goals is to monitor water quality over an extended period of time to help evaluate the effect of the $3.9 billion infrastructure improvement program currently under way on Atlanta’s surface waters.
Assess Baseline Conditions -The City conducted a comprehensive watershed assessment documenting biotic integrity, habitat conditions, and estimated pollutant loads for all of the major watersheds within the City during 1996 and 1997. The assessment provided information on baseline conditions within the watersheds; however, limited in-stream water quality data was used and new guidelines have been published by GA EPD. The data collected by the LTWMP will be used to develop a Phase II Watershed Assessment that meets GA EPD’s guidance.
Identify Sources of Impairment - Identifying a specific source of impairment is one of the most difficult aspects of urban watershed management. The LTWMP is useful in identifying sources of impairment by (1) providing real-time flow and water quality data for the current status of all major streams within the City limits, (2) providing a network of data collected that can be used to isolate the location of the impairment(s) within the watershed network, and (3) providing long-term data to evaluate natural fluctuations in water quality conditions over time with respect to seasonal and other natural factors that can influence water quality conditions as compared to actual episodic events contributing to water quality and biotic integrity impairment.
SSO Consent Decree Requirements -The monitoring network will also be used to track and evaluate the effect that sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) and other point and nonpoint sources may have on receiving streams within the City. The City is currently under a federal Consent Decree which requires action for expeditious public notice, limited public access to impaired areas, and timely notice to state and federal agencies in response to a SSO event. In addition, the City must also administer an Emergency Response Program (ERP) to ensure rapid dispatch of personnel and equipment to SSOs, ensure preparedness, and a monitoring, sampling, analysis, and reporting program to address water quality standards.
Document Stream Improvement — Currently, the main stem of most streams within the City are listed in the State 303(d) list as partially supporting or not supporting their designated use, data from the LTWMP will be used to provide additional information on the status of these streams for meeting their designated uses and current water quality standards. The City is implementing several programs to improve stream water quality conditions, including the Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) Remedial Action Program and the SSO Remedial Action Program, these programs should result in measurable enhancements in water quality and the biotic integrity of streams. The LTWMP is designed to collect the data needed to document stream improvements and any pollutant reduction that can be attributed to program implementation.
Consolidate Water Quality Program Sampling Requirements - The City is required to conduct various stream monitoring activities as part of their NPDES stormwater program, and the SSO Consent Decree (“Consent Decree”) requirements. The LTWMP integrates and consolidates these program needs by providing more comprehensive, consistent, and long-term data for area streams.
Identify New Programs to Address Streams Requiring Further Action – Watershed management requires a flexible, adaptive approach and the monitoring network will gather data necessary to make decisions about the direction of the City’s future programs.
Provide Public Education on Water Quality – Information from the LTWMP is being made available to the public via the City’s website and the USGS website. The development of the Phase II Watershed Assessment and Phase III Watershed Protection Plan will provide additional public education opportunities.
Investigative Activities: Data collected as part of the LTWMP have already been used to identify areas of high pollution potential, or “hot spots,” enabling the City to investigate and address the source. Preliminary results from synoptic sampling triggered further investigation of Woodall Creek, a tributary to Peachtree Creek and the Chattahoochee River, with the City proactively adding one more real-time station to characterize this watershed, which is dominated by industrial land uses.
One of the requirements of the City’s First Amended Consent Decree is the implementation of an Emergency Response Program (ERP) to identify and respond to Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs). Historically, the City was required to sample all SSOs, which generated a significant workload for City staff. As a result of data collected by the LTWMP, the City was able to revise the “Area-wide Monitoring Program and Investigative Approach” of the ERP in 2006 with an investigative methodology custom-tailored to site-specific conditions. ERP sampling now occurs biweekly at 8 of the 21 long-term monitoring stations, representing 75 percent of the total City area, to identify stream segments needing further investigation. The ERP revision included changing the SSO sampling requirements to require the City to sample only “major” SSOs, which are defined as those spills that are over 10,000 gallons or that create water quality violations.
The City of Atlanta continues to diligently work towards having the cleanest urban streams and rivers in the country, recognizing that the City’s future economic growth, jobs, affordability, and quality of life all depend on clean water. The City recently submitted its Phase I Watershed Monitoring Plan to GA EPD as part of the State’s required watershed planning process. Upon approval of the Watershed Monitoring Plan, the City will complete the Phase II Watershed Assessment within 3.5 years and submit an approvable Watershed Protection Plan within 4 years as indicated by the City’s 3 draft NPDES permits. When used in concert with other City programs such as the Greenway Program and initiation of a stormwater funding mechanism, the Watershed Assessment and Protection Plan will provide the City with significant tools to help it meet recently developed Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) or to support the development of Use Attainability Analysis(s), if necessary. Initial results of the LTWMP have already proven to be valuable in supporting the City’s adaptive monitoring approach to watershed management. Continued data collection and analysis will help the City to evaluate the effectiveness of its watershed management efforts and to direct future efforts to ensure timely and long-term improvements in water quality conditions within the City’s streams.