Unspecified future renovations to Savannah’s Wilshire and President Street Water Pollution Control Plants will cost millions of dollars, according to Public Works and Water Resources Director John Sawyer. Sawyer spoke to reporters Thursday after briefing city council on upcoming changes to pollution requirements.
On an average day, Sawyer says Savannah’s plants fall well below the pollution limits set by their state permits. But those limits are set to change to bring plants into compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards revised in 2010.
At the time, the new regulations represented a 76 percent reduction in daily pollution along the length of the Savannah river.
Sawyer told council that combined efforts on both sides of the river have gone “98 percent of the way” toward achieving the lower pollution levels. But polluters have made those reductions within the limits set by their old permits. That means if conditions, like heavy rainfall, increase a plant’s level of pollution for a day or two, it’s still not in violation of the permit. Eventually, stricter limits will remove that leeway.
“We have a reasonable idea of what [the new standards] might be,” Sawyer says. Savannah’s plants will meet them most of time, but without any upgrades Sawyer says the city can expect “infrequent” violations and fines once the new limits are in place.
Without official numbers on the new permits, Sawyer says it’s too early to determine the exact changes the water pollution control plants will need. “The last thing we want to do is start down a road that doesn’t get us where we need to be,” he explains.
But Sawyer says it will likely take “multiple endeavors” to bring the plants into compliance with new permits once standards are set. “You’re talking about several million dollars to make the necessary improvements,” he says.
There is no timeline yet for the new permitting standards.