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225,000 gallons of sewage spills into river

COVINGTON - The Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority reported a sewage spill of an estimated 225,000 gallons into the Yellow River on Wednesday.

The spill occurred between the hours of 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. when the treatment plant on River Front Road shut down due to the rising river, according to Executive Director Mike Hopkins.

"The river got up to where we had to shut down circuit breakers or we would have lost some equipment," he said, adding that the plant was operating "off and on" during those hours.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has been notified of the spill and the authority will follow EPD protocol in notifying the public, including posting signs near the river when it is safe to do so, Hopkins said.

Anything over 10,000 gallons is considered a major spill. Hopkins said it's not known how much sewage spilled into the river, but based on the time operations were shut down and flow amounts during that time, the spill was estimated at 225,000 gallons.

Hopkins said the spill should not pose a significant health risk to residents.

"Certainly, nobody is going to be swimming in that river or near there in the next several days," he said. "There's so much water in the river and it's moving so much right now I don't think this is anything of any significance."

Operations were up and running as usual by about 8 a.m. Hopkins said.

A new treatment facility was opened uphill from the old one, just south of Porterdale on the banks of the Yellow River, in 2007.

"Moving it up to a higher elevation was a huge lifesaver for us. If we had been in the old plant, we would have been completely flooded with river. It's completely flooded right now," Hopkins said.

The old plant was left to use for equalization during emergencies such as a flood or manhole break, so that sewage could flow into the basins and then be piped back to the new facility for treatment, Hopkins said.

"If we had not moved these facilities, we would have had a catastrophic event," he said.

Employees have had to hike to the treatment plant because River Front Road is not safe to access by vehicle. Someone is on duty at the plant 24 hours a day to keep an eye on things, Hopkins said.