State sues Troy over wastewater quality

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 8, 1999

Staff Writer

Dec. 7, 1999 10 PM

State officials are demanding the city of Troy cleanup treated wastewater flowing into Walnut Creek.

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The attorney general of Alabama filed a lawsuit Monday against the city alleging failure to operate its Wastewater Treatment Plant under the guidelines set in its permit.

The lawsuit states the city’s wastewater treatment plant is discharging water into Walnut Creek with toxicity levels that violate the Alabama Water Pollution Control Act.

Although Troy Mayor Jimmy C. Lunsford said the city did fail a series of tests evaluating its compliance with the permit, he said this does not pose any threat to humans or animals.

"When the general public hears the words ‘failed toxicity test’ they may quickly assume there is something dangerous to their health and welfare," he said. "There is no danger of any kind to humans and animals."

The mayor and other city officials explained the lawsuit Tuesday afternoon in a press conference at the Troy Municipal Complex.

Lunsford, city attorneys and staff are currently negotiating a stay of the lawsuit.

The city is requesting the lawsuit be postponed because it is in the process of preparing an explanation of months of study it has given to finding the cause and a solution to this issue, Lunsford said. Troy is conducting this investigation under the agreement and guidance of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).

The lawsuit, which is identified as number CV-99-308, was filed Monday in the Pike County Circuit Court. The lawyers who filed the suit, Scott Rouse and Craig Kneisel with the attorney general’s office did not return phone calls regarding the lawsuit.

It alleges the city violated its permit establishing limitations on the discharge of pollutants from Troy Walnut Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant located on U.S. Highway 231 South.

The lawsuit states the city’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit requires Troy to conduct toxicity tests in February, May, August and November of each year to determine compliance with the permit.

One of the tests calls for measurement of the survival and reproduction rate of a microscopic organism called a water flea. Using this testing method, water fleas are placed in samples of the treated water discharged from the city’s wastewater treatment plant or effluent. Toxicity is demonstrated if a significant number of the fleas fail to survive and reproduce in the effluent sample as compared to the control sample of fresh water.

A second test is conducted in a similar way, except that it involves a species of fathead minnows instead of water fleas.

The lawsuit alleges that on 22 different periods from 1994-1999, the city of Troy operated its wastewater treatment plant in violation of its permit by discharging effluent having a toxicity level that failed the water flea survival test. On four dates in 1995, 1998 and 1999, the city’s discharged water failed the minnow survival test.

The lawsuit alleges the city continuously violated its permit and requests the assessment of a civil penalty against the city for every violation of the permit alleged in the complaint. The clean water act calls for a maximum of $25,000 fine per violation.

Lunsford said he is surprised the attorney general filed the suit while the city is working closely with another state agency – ADEM – to resolve the issue.

"Our engineers sat down with representatives from ADEM and set up a consent order – a schedule for resolving these problems – which ends in November of 2000," he said. "It is extremely difficult to identify what is causing this problem."

Lunsford said the city first learned of the issue on Sept. 18, 1997 when ADEM staff members performed a study to document the effects of the wastewater discharge on the organisms living in Walnut Creek. this effort included aquatic macro invertebrate sampling, toxicity testing and chemical analyses.

"The results of the study indicated the water quality of Walnut Creek just below the Troy Wastewater treatment Plant to be moderately impaired," Lunsford said. "The study also indicated that further downstream from the plant, the stream had completely recovered from the impacts of the effluent."

On Aug. 20, 1998, the city was placed under a consent order.

While under the consent order, the city said it would conduct a Toxicity Identification Evaluation and a Toxicity Reduction Evaluation. The goal of the evaluations is to determine the source of toxicity and the methods to return wastewater plant discharge to acceptable levels.

"The City of Troy along withy a team of experts in the filed of wastewater toxicology have been working diligently to achieve compliance," Lunsford said. "The City has implemented pesticide education to the public and is working with commercial and industrial users on possible improvements to their discharge."

Also, changes at the wastewater treatment plant, including aeration and extending the detention time, been implemented.