EPD: Macon now stormwater compliant after 2018 fines

Bibb School System strikes deal for reduced stormwater fees


Liz Fabian

A Macon Water Authority worker climbs out of the storm sewer as the crew works on clearing a storm drain in Mercer Village after flash flooding last fall. The EPD found the Stormwater Management Program to be in compliance for the first time since the county was fined $145,000 for documented deficiencies in 2018.

The Macon Water Authority is celebrating a milestone that wards off additional fines for the county’s stormwater management program.

A month ago, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division sent a letter declaring the program meets regulatory standards for the first time in five years.

During Thursday’s MWA committee meetings, interim Executive Vice President of Plant and Field Operations, Michel Wanna, drew a round of applause when he shared details of the authority clearing state regulatory requirements.

“Based on the discussion and the support documents submitted for the MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) inspection, it appears that Macon-Bibb County is taking steps towards the proper implementation of the program,” Wanna read from the letter.

MWA took over stormwater management in 2021, but only started billing customers at the first of this year.

Wanna said it took decades for the problems to manifest but only a year for MWA to get into compliance. In spring of 2018, the EPA and EPD performed a joint inspection of Macon-Bibb County and identified deficiencies that were corrected by the 2022 inspection.

Violations to the Clean Water Act in the 2018 inspection resulted in $145,000 in penalties that prompted the county’s negotiations with MWA to take over stormwater management.

“That’s a big job for our folks and what they’re doing every day, every week and every month,” Wanna said.

He hit the highlights of some of the stormwater accomplishments in the first year the authority took over the management program.

Crews cleaned 4,676 catch basins out of 19,100 in the system and cleared 87 miles of stormwater pipe out of 409 miles in the county. They also cleared out more than a third of the 859 miles of ditches.

“We’re proud of that. We’re really on the right track,” Wanna said.

Authority members encouraged staff to get the message out to the public.

Howell said people keep asking what is being done with the stormwater fees.

“I think this right here is proof of the pudding here that we are doing something. Things are being done,” Howell said. “When the state says, ‘Hey, I think you’ve turned the corner,’ that’s all on the Macon Water Authority.”

During the Engineering Committee meeting, authority members approved $64,500 for Barge Design Solutions to fix a known stormwater issue in the “high-traffic, densely developed area” along Poplar Street Lane and Poplar Street.

Barge determined multiple layers of road resurfacing piled up over the years and decreased the space where stormwater can flow into the system.

“This solution is estimated to eliminate the localized flooding for up to the 25-year, 24-hour rainfall event,” the report stated.

That project is expected to take 120 to complete.

Bibb Schools slash stormwater fees

When it comes to finding ways to reduce stormwater management fees, the Bibb County School System did its homework on credit applications.

Thursday, the Macon Water Authority approved three agreements to credit the school system for up to half of what they are billed for stormwater management.

“This is exactly the intent of what was going to happen when we developed the stormwater program,” MWA Executive Director Joey Leverette said at this week’s committee meetings. “The credit incentivizes action and they jumped on it right away. It’s only April and they’ve done a fantastic job in planning for this.”

In the first memorandum of understanding, or MOU, the district will hire a contractor to bring all stormwater retention ponds on school properties to full compliance with the Georgia Stormwater Management Manual. The school system will continue to maintain the ponds as part of the agreement.

Sam Kitchens, executive director of capital programs for the Bibb County School District, said he expects the school board to hire a contractor at its June meeting.

Macon-Bibb County Commissioner Bill Howell, who represents south Macon and serves on the authority, encouraged Kitchens to make Rutland High School’s pond a priority.

“I know that we have a retention pond major issue there, and I would very much ask, beg, plead that that one gets put on the top of the list before we have another major flooding event,” Howell said.

“That was actually the discussion at our pre-meeting last week,” Kitchens said. “We reserve the right to prioritize.”

School system property that has those ponds could be eligible for up to a 30 percent fee reduction for reducing runoff or enhancing water quality, aquatic resource or channel protection, and overbank flood protection.

“At this time we don’t have plans to build new schools except for Springdale that will be renovated next year,” Kitchens said. “But in the future, any schools that need to be build will be built to these standards.”

The school district also will implement a state-approved Stormwater Education Program in the science curriculum from elementary through high school, which will make participating schools eligible for a 20 percent reduction in stormwater fees.

A 15 percent reduction in stormwater fees is attached to the planned annual Stewardship Day in schools which will provide activities that promote local water and environmental stewardship.

Although the individual credits could total 65 percent, the authority has set a maximum cap of a 50 percent reduction in fees.

The agreements renew annually for three years and a new MOU would have to be approved thereafter.

Kitchens, who worked 25 years for Bibb County before joining the school district, praised the authority’s efforts since taking over stormwater.

“Go down Second and Poplar, go down Second and Cherry, go down Third at Walnut, Go down MLK at Walnut, y’all have done a lot of work,” Kitchens said. “None of those flooded after five inches of rain two weeks ago. So, I mean, just look around. Y’all are making a huge difference in the stormwater just in the last year.”

“It takes time,” MWA Engineering Committee Chairman Frank Patterson said.

All items approved in Thursday’s committees are expected to receive final approval during next month’s board meeting.

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] or 478-301-2976.