Collapsed DeKalb sewer main spilled 5.5 million gallons into river

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Credit: Steve Schaefer

Last week’s sewer main collapse in southern DeKalb County sent an estimated 5.46 million gallons of wastewater into the nearby South River.

That according to a newly released county “evaluation report” from the Aug. 1 incident in the area of 2727 Bouldercrest Road, just south of I-285. A watershed management employee wrote that “severe bank erosion” caused the 24-inch sewer main to collapse and spill sewage into the waterway.

Such spills present potential public health and ecological dangers by spreading bacteria like E. coli. And the South River, a tributary of the Ocmulgee that runs some 63 miles southeast from Atlanta to Butts County, has previously been named one of America’s “most endangered” rivers.

ExploreDeKalb cuts tied with company founded by admitted federal fraudster

DeKalb County’s sewer system was a primary reason for the designation.

DeKalb leaders neglected the county’s wastewater infrastructure for decades, allowing the system to become marred with aging, damaged and spill-prone pipes. The worst of it has traditionally been in the Snapfinger basin, the predominantly Black, historically underserved southern end of the county — and also home to the South River.

Since taking office in 2017, county CEO Michael Thurmond has made the sewer system a priority, efforts that have included the renegotiation of an existing consent decree with state and federal environmental regulators. The new, more aggressive plan mandates that DeKalb spend more than $1 billion to repair and replace infrastructure in order to drastically reduce sewer spills by December 2027.

Many related projects are currently underway or have already been completed. But there’s still plenty of work to be done.

While massive, the recent sewer main break was believed to be just the third largest spill in DeKalb since the start of 2020.

During that time period, spills of 9.2 million and 6.9 million gallons are among the half dozen or so million-plus gallon incidents reported at a single site near Meadow Creek Path in Lithonia.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division deems any spill over 10,000 gallons to be “major.”

County documents said the Bouldercrest Road spill was stopped using a bypass pump about nine hours after it was first discovered. The status of more permanent repairs was unclear.