DeKalb County, Georgia Clean Water Act Settlement Modified to Further Address Sanitary Sewer Overflows
ATLANTA (October 22, 2020) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), along with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), announced a proposed modification of a 2011 Consent Decree with DeKalb County, Georgia. The proposed modification both extends the overall schedule and expedites work in high priority areas. The cost of improvements to the sewer system to reduce sewer overflows throughout DeKalb County’s wastewater collection and transmission system (WCTS) is estimated to be more than $1 billion.
“This proposed modification represents significant efforts to develop a comprehensive solution that will improve the quality of life of DeKalb County’s citizens as well as the quality of water in the county,” said EPA Region 4 Acting Deputy Administrator John Blevins. “It presents the best path forward to eliminating sanitary sewer overflows in the County.”
The proposed modification, lodged October 21, 2020 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, will require the County to fix over 100 particularly problematic locations in the County’s WCTS on an expedited schedule, complete the rehabilitation of all previously identified priority areas in the WCTS by December 20, 2027, and increase reporting to EPA and EPD. Under the proposed modification, the County will also begin to use a dynamic hydraulic computer model to more accurately predict the volumes of water in the WCTS and the County will implement a Capacity Assurance Program requiring satisfaction of certain conditions before the County authorizes new or increased sewer connections.
“The proposed Consent Decree modification furthers the progress DeKalb County has made since 2017, directing its efforts to projects that will eliminate spills rapidly and improve the environment,” said Richard Dunn, Director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). “I am pleased that the parties were able to agree to a proposal that gives DeKalb County the time it needs to complete sewer system repairs while protecting residents and our state waters in the process.”
The original 2011 Consent Decree resolved claims, through the December 13, 2010, date of lodging, by the United States and the State of Georgia that the County violated the Clean Water Act and the Georgia Water Quality Control Act. The violations involved Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) from the County’s WCTS, particularly those reaching waters of the United States or Georgia, and failures to comply with certain operation and maintenance conditions of the County’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits.
Under the 2011 Consent Decree, the County was required 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. The County also paid a civil penalty of $453,000 to the United States and the State of Georgia and conducted a stream cleanup project at an estimated cost of $600,000. The cleanup focused on the removal of trash and debris from segments of the South River, South Fork Peachtree Creek, and Snapfinger Creek.
The County’s WCTS has experienced hundreds of SSOs and spilled million gallons of wastewater since entry of the 2011 Consent Decree. The United States and the State of Georgia have demanded, and the County has paid, $859,000 in stipulated penalties under the Consent Decree for these SSOs.
The County will be required to pay an additional civil penalty of $1.047 million under the proposed modification. The proposed modification will be available for review and public comment for a period not less than 30 days. After considering and responding to comments received, the United States will determine whether to proceed with the proposed modification and, if so, file a motion moving the Court to enter the modification. Court approval is required before any modification would be effective.