WASHINGTON – DeKalb County, Ga. has agreed to make major improvements to its sanitary sewer systems in an effort to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated sewage, the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced today.
In addition, DeKalb will pay a civil penalty of $453,000, to be split evenly between the United States and the state of Georgia, and implement a supplemental environmental project valued at $600,000 that will provide additional environmental benefits to the local community. The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta today, resolves the joint federal and state complaint filed at the same time alleging violations of the Clean Water Act and the Georgia Water Quality Control Act.
“This settlement will mean a healthier, safer environment for communities in DeKalb County,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “Like other aging sanitation systems across the country where we have reached clean water settlements, upgrading this aging infrastructure and conducting community-based cleanups will result in cleaner streams and waterways for families and children.”
“Sewage overflows are a significant problem in the Southeast because of inadequate and aging infrastructure,” said Stan Meiburg, Deputy Regional Administrator of EPA’s Southeastern office. “This agreement demonstrates DeKalb County’s commitment to address long-standing sewage problems. Ultimately, this will benefit the local community and improve water quality in the Upper Ocmulgee and Chattahoochee watersheds.”
DeKalb’s sanitary sewer system serves over 500,000 people. The wastewater collection and transmission system which DeKalb owns and operates includes approximately 2,600 miles of sewer lines, 55,000 manholes, and 66 lift stations. This is a sanitary sewer system designed to convey only municipal sewage, not stormwater.
Overflows pose a significant threat to public health because raw sewage can have high concentrations of bacteria from fecal contamination, as well as disease-causing pathogens and viruses. These overflows can occur in backyards, city streets, and directly into streams and rivers.
“This proposed consent decree negotiated with DeKalb County will result in targeted cleanups of DeKalb County streams and major long term improvements to the DeKalb County sanitary sewer systems,” said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Sally Quillian Yates. “The agreement reflects the strong commitment of the Justice Department to enforce the mandate of the Clean Water Act through working with our colleagues in state and local governments.”
The consent decree provides for targeted injunctive relief for priority areas, consisting primarily of the most aged sewer pipes. The major features of the consent decree relating to the sanitary sewer system will require DeKalb to identify and quantify overflows of untreated sewage and their causes; to identify, delineate, assess and rehabilitate all priority areas within 8 ½ years; and improve its management, operation and maintenance programs to prevent future overflows and respond to overflows when they occur. DeKalb has estimated that the injunctive relief and other related improvements may cost approximately $700 million.
As part of the settlement, DeKalb has agreed to conduct a stream cleanup project at an estimated cost of $600,000. The cleanup will focus on removal of trash and debris from segments of the South River, South Fork Peachtree Creek and Snapfinger Creek. DeKalb will encourage the public to join in the stream cleanup project.
The Justice Department and EPA, often joined by the states, are taking an active lead in municipal Clean Water Act enforcement and have already entered into settlements with numerous municipalities including Atlanta; Baltimore; Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Ohio; Jefferson County (Birmingham), and Mobile, Ala.; Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn.; Louisville, Ky.; Miami, Fla.; New Orleans; and Sanitation District Number 1 of Northern Kentucky.
The proposed consent decree with DeKalb County is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. A copy of the consent decree lodged today is available on the Department of Justice website at www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html.