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'Dirty Dozen' water list includes dam issue


Cumming's dam issue highlights state's lack of regulation



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An earth dam breached in Cumming off Sanders Road after heavy rains May 19. (click for larger version)

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November 18, 2013
CUMMING, Ga. — In May, a dam located below Lake Alice burst, unleashing a torrent of polluted water downstream.

In addition to the dam breach that washed out a portion of Sanders Road, tons of sediment were dumped into Lake Lanier and negatively affected about 50 homes.

The dam's failure near Lake Alice was named last week in the "Dirty Dozen" for 2013, an annual report by the Georgia Water Coalition, a group of more than 200 state organizations, which puts the spotlight on 12 of the "worst offenses to Georgia's waters."

"The Dirty Dozen is not a list of the most polluted water bodies in Georgia, nor are they ranked in any particular order," said Joe Cook, riverkeeper and executive director at the Coosa River Basin Initiative.

"It's a list of problems that exemplify the results of inadequate funding for environmental protections, lack of political will to enforce environmental laws and ultimately misguided water planning and spending priorities that flow from the very top of Georgia's leadership," he said.

In the report, the Lake Alice dam highlights the state's aging dams, which are in danger of failing and often go without inspection.

Of about 4,300 dams inventoried in the state, the Environmental Protection Division can only enforce the maintenance of 484 of them.

The 484 dams are considered Category I dams.

Bert Langley, coordinator of EPD district offices across the state, said Category I dams, under the Georgia Safe Dams Act of 1978, are classified as those that if they fail have "a high likelihood of loss of life."

"We just don't have the authority based on that law to go in and ask someone to update and fix those dams like we can the Category I dams," Langley said.

Langley said it would take legislative change and a tremendous amount of staffing to actually regulate a lot of these small dams.

"There are literally thousands of them around the state," Langley said. "Many of them are old, poorly maintained and the concern is that the further we get into that cycle, as we have more heavy rain events, we'll have more of these fails and they cause quite a stir when they happen."

Jason Ulseth, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper's technical programs director, said due to weakened dam safety rules adopted by the state, there are an additional 100 sites where a dam failure could result in the loss of human life that still go unregulated.

"To prevent future tragedies, Georgia must invest in the resources needed to adequately inspect all dams in the state and require their owners to fix their failing dams," Ulseth said. "Georgia's Environmental Protection Division should inspect a larger percentage of dams, take enforcement actions requiring maintenance and provide education to all dam owners across the state."

The earth dam break occurred after about four inches of rain on May 19 washed out parts of Sanders Road, carrying tons of mud through the creek bed into a cove on the southeast side of Lake Lanier.

Langley said the Mashburn Family Trust, which owns a portion of the land, along with the city of Cumming and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are meeting to discuss revisions to a consent order "to make sure all the parties are on the same page in terms of exactly what we want to have happen."

Lisa Parker, a spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers, said the city of Cumming has started placing erosion mats in the lake bed, but there is no plan in place to repair the dam.

"They still have to remove sediment from the lake and easement area," Parker said. "These actions will require Corps permits."

Scott Morgan, director of planning and zoning for the city, said a contractor is installing matting along the stream bank areas in the former lake bed and conducting overseeding in adjacent areas in order to further stabilize the entire area upstream of the dam breach.

"We have submitted a remediation plan to the Georgia EPD and the U.S. Corps of Engineers, have received their comments and have made appropriate revisions to the plan," Morgan said. "Once we receive final approval from EPD, along with the necessary Corps permits, we can begin implementing the remediation plan, which we expect will begin after the first of the year."

Dirty Dozen

Other issues highlighted in the report include stormwater from industrial facilities polluting a stream flowing into Lake Lanier largely because there are two EPD staffers responsible for inspecting and monitoring about 2,000 industrial sites.

A pulp mill in Jesup has made the list for three years now for fouling the Altamaha River.

Sally Bethea, executive director of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said the annual list is a call to action for leaders and citizens to come together to correct pollution problems and eliminate wasteful use of state and local tax dollars.

"Each of the problems can be traced to one of the following causes: inadequate funding for environmental protection, lack of political will to enforce existing environmental protections and/or misguided policies and spending priorities," Bethea said.

Read the full report http://www.bit.ly/19o4cuP.

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