LISTEN: GPB's Orlando Montoya reports on the emergency, which the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper hopes won't sour people on enjoying the water after the spill is addressed.

 Chattahoochee River

A sewage treatment plant malfunction closed an 11-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River in metro Atlanta over the busy 2023 Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Credit: GPB / File

Fulton County officials are blaming a sewage treatment plant malfunction for a spill that closed an 11-mile stretch of the Chattahoochee River in metro Atlanta over the busy 2023 Fourth of July holiday weekend.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Jason Ulseth said plant operators were unaware of the malfunction until his organization noticed untreated wastewater going into the river on Thursday.

"Samples were collected this morning at four locations downstream of the spill site," Ulseth said. "And we will have those results available tomorrow morning which would tell us if we're able to have the river open for the Fourth or not."

The unspecified malfunction occurred at the Big Creek Water Reclamation Plant near Roswell and closed the river downstream to Peachtree Creek.

That's a popular stretch of the river, normally filled with loads of recreational users on hot summer days.

Ulseth said he's worried that once the river reopens, people will avoid it.

"I do get concerned that people will develop this stigma that the river is this polluted cesspool and you shouldn't touch it," he said. "But that's just simply not the case. Generally the water quality in metro Atlanta and the Chattahoochee River is very good except for following heavy rains and in emergency situations like this particular spill."

Fulton County has installed a disinfection system to help kill some of the sewage's harmful E. coli bacteria and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers was expected to increase flows from Buford Dam to dilute the sewage.



The National Park Service said in a July 3 press release that water quality tests revealed bacteria levels that exceed the Environmental Protection Agency recommended limits for recreation. The partial river closure will remain in effect until water quality is safe for visitors.

While this closure impacts some of the most popular units of the park, over 30 miles of river remain open. The Chattahoochee River is accessible from Buford Dam to Azalea Park in Roswell.

All hiking trails, picnic areas and the Hewlett Lodge are open.


Know before you go

The National Park Service provides updated information on its website about the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. The page provides closures and updates on air and water quality. Water quality information can also be found at the United States Geological Survey website.