UPDATE | City moves forward with plans for a permanent fix to sewage problem

Published: Jan. 3, 2017 at 11:41 PM EST
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News 12 NBC 26 @ 6:00 / Wednesday, March 15, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Neighbors near Rocky Creek have been dealing with a sanitary sewer problem for years, and even with a temporary solution, they're still living in fear of the rain.

Dry days are happy days for Linda Reeves. Rainy days bring the unexpected, including sewage overflowing in her home and her yard.

"It was still in the ditches, and it was piling up a good bit in my car port," she said.

We showed you that three times in three weeks at her home.

"It's like we're fighting a losing battle here," Reeves told News 12 NBC 26.

That's why the city came up with an emergency solution. On Tuesday commissioners approved 370,000 dollars to design the solution which includes building a pipe to go around the problem area and building what's called a pumping station to help.

Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier told city leaders the total cost for the permanent fix could be up to six million dollars. A fix for this area was already in the departments capital improvements fund for three to four million, but because it's now marked as an emergency project the price tag is higher.

"If they would have fixed this thing years ago, it wouldn't have cost nearly as much money," she said.

Even though the design funds were approved on Tuesday, the plans are already in the works and should be complete in the next few months. In the mean time crews are doing what they can, fixing manhole covers, digging out ditches, and trying to keep the pipes clear.

The temporary fixes are in place but the big solution won't be here until the end of this year, if not early next year.

News 12 NBC 26 @ 11:00 / Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Half a century old pipes are part of the problem that's causing some Augusta neighborhoods to find sewage in their streets. The city says they're fixing this emergency now.

After heavy rain caused sewage to bubble up into people's streets, yards, and homes, the city says they have a plan to fix it for good.

"But now that we feel we have a solution to this it's important to let our citizens know this matters to us as a city government," Mayor Hardie Davis said.

There's a short term plan, a long term plan, and some ways to help in the meantime like fixing manhole covers and digging out the ditches.

The problem is a big one.

"Our problem stems from the location of our existing trunk line and it's location in the middle of a swamp." Tom Wiedmeier said.

Heavy rain puts the whole sewer system under water, causing problems downstream and upstream. The age of the pipes is part of the problem. When they were installed decades ago they were built with concrete, which was the best known technology then, but it is not good for the infrastructure now.

In the past fifteen years a lot of work has been done and most of the other trunk sewers have been replaced. The Spirit Creek sewer will also need to be redone ultimately as well.

The permanent fix will be basically building a pipe that will go around this area, down Lumpkin Road and Mike Padgett to Doug Barnard Parkway. They will be building lift stations and a force main to fix the problem. Wiedmeier says they will get the work done as soon as possible. He says he hopes to be mostly complete by the end of this year, but they cannot assure that timeline.

It will take months and could cost millions, but the price and timeline are not nailed down yet. The money will come from the capital improvement fund and it is already in the budget.

"The commission is going to move very swiftly on this acknowledging that it is an emergency response," Mayor Davis said.

Even though they are treating this as an emergency response, crews have been working on these problems for years. In 2015 crews replaced 1,000 feet of pipes which they also said helped with the area considerably.

"Our own people have been down and made improvements in the sewer which made the situation a lot better," Wiedmeier said.

In the mean time, crews should start digging to install a relief sewer in the next few weeks down Virginia Avenue to help with the problem.

"The citizens can see that we are out there working and we're looking at solutions that can half way remedy it for the time being." Commissioner Dennis Williams said.

The construction that will need to be done in the future could cause some road closures down Lumpkin Road, but the Utilities director believes it will minimally impact travel on Mike Padgett Highway.

News 12 NBC 26 @ 6:00 / Monday, Jan. 23, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Neighbors holding their breath and their noses waiting for a solution to a sewer issue in South Augusta. It's been going on for years, but another heavy rain last night has folks living off Peach Orchard Road begging for help from the city.

The Utilities Department made some temporary fixes on Monday, but even a short term fix could be months away.

3.41 inches of rain. That's how much it took to cause waste water to overflow from seven manholes in the area off Peach Orchard Road.

"You can see from here to here there's human feces bubbling up into people's yards," Linda Reeves said.

It was also bubbling up in Reeve's home.

"You can't even flush your own toilet you're a prisoner of your own home," she said.

Utilities and Engineering crews came out on Monday. They replaced some parts, dug out the ditches, and sucked up the water. But this fix is temporary. Now, instead of sewage flowing into her home, it will only flow into her yard.

On Monday Utilities Director Tom Weidmeir called Linda. He told her they are working under an emergency basis.

"We've got something in the works, like I said," he said to her on the phone. "We'll start I think in the next thirty to sixty days, and we'll be done by the end of the year," he said.

One fix is supposed to be a relief sewer to move water to a part of the system not overflowing.

"We have to make the decision to get this done because it's going to be expensive and it's going to be timely. But we have to find the money to get this done because they've been neglected over the years," Commissioner Dennis Williams said.

Two years ago crews replaced around 1,000 feet of pipes, but the city says more needs to be done because of the increased flow of water.

"Well one of the things with the storm water is we're going to fix these problems. Of course it's not going to be overnight and everyone wants these things done overnight," Commissioner Williams said.

A real estate agent told me this issue is probably putting a huge hit on their property values. An EPA representative told me the city is under orders to evaluate all of their collection sysem, and the deadline is coming up soon. If the problem is capacity of water in the system they have to rehab the whole system.

News 12 NBC 26 @ 11:00 / Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Two Augusta departments are joining forces to tackle a nasty problem in the city. Last week people off Peach Orchard Road had to deal with sewage bubbling up into their streets and yards.

Commissioner Dennis Williams went out to see the homes off Peach Orchard Road dealing with sewage in their yards.

"Well when I went out there the sewage was pushing the lid up out of the ground," Commissioner Williams said.

A sight you really have to see to believe.

"Being able to see it for myself was shocking, it was bad, it was extremely bad," he said.

It was a unanimous vote yes in committee meetings on Tuesday to let the Engineering and Utilities Departments get together to fix it. A lot of the problems are sanitary sewer problems. The sewers are old and the Utilities Department has been working to replace them for years. But stormwater plays a part too.

"That's more of a continuous maintenance issue. Where the stormwater comes in to play is replacing the pipes," Engineering Director Abie Ladson said.

That's the work the engineering department will work to do.

"The pipe structures that need to be replaced, they're too undersized, and ditches need to be cleaned out or regraded," Ladson said.

But the sanitary sewer and stormwater issues are county wide, and both departments are working to fix them as fast as they can.

"It's probably going to take a period of time of 10 to 15 years to complete all of these problems areas and get the necessary funding," he said.

For now, commissioners are glad this spot is getting attention.

News 12 NBC 26 @ 6:00 / Monday, Jan. 9, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Last week, sewage flooded the yards of several homes in Augusta. Monday, the water was gone, but some of the mess remains.

Homeowners are still left with a smelly problem while city leaders work towards a solution. Jamie McGahee is one of the homeowners whose yard was covered in sewage last week and has been left dealing with the aftermath.

"It dried up, then it rained, then it dried up again, but it's not going anywhere, it's just laying on top of the soil," McGahee said.

Heavy rains caused sewage to bubble up from manhole covers and flooded the streets, yards, even some homes.

Augusta Utilities crews went to the neighborhood to clean up the mess. The crews shoveled waste, laid down Lyme, and sucked up the water with vacuum trucks.

"They're doing more this time than they've ever done before, but it's still not enough. It's still covered in it, and it's going to happen again. It happened again this weekend," McGahee said.

Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier told us the rain over the weekend caused more problems but they were not as bad as the previous week.

He said the large amount of rain caused trouble for the collection system, but things should be getting back to normal.

Until it's all cleaned up, McGahee said she is keeping her kids inside.

"They go from the house straight into the car, they don't touch anything, if you drop a toy you leave it there," McGahee said.

The Utilities Department is working with the Engineering Department to make some long needed fixes to the Rocky Creek trunk sewer.

The Augusta Commission is set to talk about the storm drain problems on Tuesday and will discuss action plans to fix it.

McGahee said she is glad something is being done about an issue that is long overdue.

"I know that there's not a miracle cure and this isn't going to get fixed overnight, and I know I live in a fifty or sixty year old neighborhood, but the point is they've known about it for all of this time and they still haven't done anything," she said.

McGahee said crews came out to take soil and water samples.The Utilities Department said her water is okay, but she's still waiting to hear back about her soil.

News 12 First at Five & News 12 NBC 26 @ 6:00 / Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Augusta Utilities Department is cleaning up after sewage started bubbling out of sewers in Richmond County.

It's an ongoing problem, but the city says they're getting closer to a short-term solution.

Down came the rain to wash it all away, but not in this neighborhood.

"I was sitting on my porch in the front yesterday and it smelled like poop," Theresa Royal said.

"You see it, then you start to smell it," Kelly Green said.

Neighbors have seen sewage in streets, yards, even in some homes. Royal says when they see the rain come down, they know something else will come up in their yards.

"When it rains really hard out here on Chester and Virginia, we get an overflow in our yards," she said.

This most recent rain was particularly heavy.

"When I saw how much rain we were getting, I knew we would get issues in the system," Augusta Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said.

Augusta's sanitary sewer system is old and has been going through repairs for years.

"Yeah it manifests itself in the older part of the system. We've done a tremendous amount of work in the past ten years replacing our old pipes and we're continuing to do that," Wiedmeier said.

Those long term solutions are a long way off, so now the utilities department is trying to find some quicker ways to prevent this.

"What we're first going to do is some manhole work to try and make it stop from coming out of the manholes," the director said.

They'll also work on the trunk sewers, a spot where a lot of sewers connect. In the mean time crews are cleaning up the mess left behind, using vacuum trucks to suck up standing water, raking debris, and putting down Lyme outside to disinfect. The damage inside will take more work including restoration crews.

"It's a great thing to see them out here, it really is, but in the mean time while they are thinking of us, take actions," Royal said.

"We understand how this impacts people's lives and we're sensitive to that and we are working toward a solution," Wiedmeier said.

Even the mayor is getting involved, meeting with the utilities director on Wednesday.

"I think its important for the citizens to know that we're actively engaged and involved in this issue. We want to be front and center letting them know they're not alone in this effort," Mayor Hardie Davis Jr. said.

He says the utilities department is already putting in the work for short and long term solutions, and he'll make sure they have what they need to resolve this.

"I think if there's more support we need to be giving to a clean up and remediation effort than I will take those things to the commission and we'll get it done," he said.

He says the city is going to help the people stuck with this mess in their yards, streets, and homes.

"I think it's important for everyone to know involved in this situation that the city of Augusta will do everything possible not only to make them whole, but also to get their lives back to normalcy," the mayor said.

People who have problems with this in or outside of their homes should call 311. Those calls go straight to the utilities department.

Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The Augusta Utilities Department has released a sanitary sewer overflow report stating more than 9 million gallons have overflowed into Butler Creek.

Measured amounts of rain from Jan. 1 to Jan. 3 range from five to greater than seven inches across the area. The extra rain caused the wastewater collection system to exceed its pumping capacity.

According to the release, the wastewater collection system flows at rates up to 78 million gallons a day of highly diluted wastewater. That water goes through the treatment plant and the excess water, about 9,107,820 gallons, went into the tributary at Butler Creek.

Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Just moments after pumping rainwater and runoff sewage from a yard on Virginia Avenue - crews dump it into a nearby creek.

Jamie McGahee couldn't believe what she was seeing.

"I just assumed they were going to take the water to the waste treatment facility which is right around the corner and I was just dumbfounded when they backed up and just opened the door and just let it go right here beside my house into the creek."

A problem neighbors thought was just affecting them, now may be a health issue for a lot more people. The Savannah Riverkeepers say Rocky Creek flows into the Savannah River.

"I mean it was a bad situation to start with and with them dumping this into the creek they are just making this situation so much bigger they are affecting so many more people with this contaminated water," McGahee says.

Utilities Director Tom Weidemier says this should have never happened and the water was supposed to be taken to a waster water facility to be taken care of.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has launched an investigation. They'll also be looking into the potential hazard of solid waste remaining on roads and yards long after the water is gone.

"They haven't told anybody in the neighborhood what it is-- and I think that's why nobody around here is having such a big fit about it is because they just don't know. It's not their fault they just don't know exactly what it is that's coming into their yards," McGahee says.