Rain runoff from construction sites threatens waterways

by: Ashley Swann Updated:

This summer’s rain is causing big problems with runoff at local construction sites, putting waterways at risk and shutting down projects.

This summer's rain is causing big problems with runoff at local construction sites, putting waterways at risk and shutting down projects.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Technical Programs Director Jason Ulseth said silt and mud that washes off construction sites is a risk to waterways.

"It can essentially choke the life out of the ecosystems in the stream and the river," said Ulseth. "It clogs storm water conveyance systems. It can cause additional flooding, and it also fills up our reservoirs and our drinking water supplies."

Sites are required to install and maintain containment measures such as silt fences and diversion ditches. Ulseth said those measures aren't always proving to be sufficient due to the uptick in construction and this season's unusually wet weather.

"Just because we have a big storm, that's not an excuse to let all the mud go into the streams," said Ulseth. "They need to be ready and prepared."

Local governments issued citations and stop-work orders for sites found in violation. A project on East Andrews Drive in Buckhead ran into problems, as did a development near Johns Creek in Forsyth County.

"I saw a silt fence full of sediment," said Ulseth. "It was obvious that mud was pouring off the site and into a stream."

Local construction project managers said runoff challenges are keeping them busy.

"This is the wettest summer that I've ever known," said Mark Madlem of the May Moeller Purcell Construction Co. "We've been talking to other project managers in the area. A lot of them are shut down or unable to work."

Madlem said he isn't taking chances with his project at the King Plow Arts Center in Northwest Atlanta.

"We're doing everything we can," said Madlem. "We've always had our temporary sediment ponds so we have a place to store all the runoff onsite."

Their efforts have worked, so far.

"We've got filtration systems in place. Rock. You can see the construction entrances that knock the dirt off the trucks' tires as they come and go," said Madlem. "It's a serious thing financially, but it is a serious thing for the environment, too."