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Environmental Enforcement: Dekalb County Settles Sewer Complaint

Dekalb County Settles Sewer Complaint

DeKalb County, Ga. has agreed to make major improvements to its sanitary sewer system in an effort to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated sewage, the U.S. Justice Department and the Environmental Protection Agency, announced yesterday.  

DeKalb County also agreed to 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 yesterday, resolves the joint federal and state complaint alleging violations of the Clean Water Act and the Georgia Water Quality Control Act.

DeKalb County’s sanitary sewer system serves over 500,000 people.   The wastewater collection and transmission system which the county owns and operates includes approximately 2,600 miles of sewer lines, 55,000 manholes, and 66 lift stations.   The county’s sanitary sewer system is designed to convey only municipal sewage, not storm water.

Sewage 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.

The consent decree provides for targeted injunctive relief for priority areas, consisting primarily of the most aged sewer pipes. It will also require DeKalb County 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 County estimates 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.     

The proposed consent decree with DeKalb County is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

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