Breaking News

Armed man surrenders, ending 8-hour standoff in Henry County

X

Conservation group files suit in DeKalb over sewer spills

Jacqueline Echols  and the South River Watershed Alliance filed suit against DeKalb County this week over alleged Clean Water Act violations caused by repeated sewer spills. She is shown here in an AJC file photo.  (WILLIAM BERRY/staff)
Jacqueline Echols and the South River Watershed Alliance filed suit against DeKalb County this week over alleged Clean Water Act violations caused by repeated sewer spills. She is shown here in an AJC file photo. (WILLIAM BERRY/staff)

Credit: WILLIAM BERRY

Credit: WILLIAM BERRY

DeKalb County has not done enough to stop repeated sewer spills that allow human waste to contaminate streams and rivers, a new lawsuit alleges.

The South River Watershed Alliance wants a judge to designate DeKalb in violation of the federal Clean Water Act and force the county to pay civil penalties and take immediate action to prevent spills.

The Alliance is a non-profit conservation organization focused on ensuring the health of the South River and Chattahoochee River watersheds. Both the alliance and its board president, Jacqueline "Jackie" Echols, are named as a plaintiff.

The county said Friday afternoon that it had not yet received a copy of the lawsuit. In a statement, the county said that it has been working to increase transparency while reducing the number of sewer spills in DeKalb. The county says it plans to spend $105 million during the 2019-2020 fiscal year on sewer system repairs.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday notes that there have been more than 800 spills both small and large since July 2014. It provides 25 addresses where major spills have happened more than once.

The county’s statement said those numbers don’t tell the whole story.

“DeKalb County annually processes, treats and releases 12 billion gallons of clean water into the South River through two wastewater treatment plants, Snapfinger and Pole Bridge,” the statement said. “At the end of the third quarter of 2018, major sewer spills were down 42 percent from 2017 and the county ended the year with an overall reduction in major spill volume.”

DeKalb’s aging sewer system often gets overwhelmed during heavy rainfalls, leading to overflows that allow wastewater to enter the stormwater system. Other spills are caused by blockages due to improper items being flushed or fats, oils and greases from homes and restaurants being poured down drains.

The lawsuit accuses DeKalb of failing to implement technology that could prevent spills. It also places some of the blame on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for not enforcing the Consent Degree negotiated in 2011.

That document lists a series of fixes that DeKalb said it would make over a 10-year period and outlines financial penalties if the county has additional sewer spills. Those penalties have not been enforced and the EPA and EPD have not prosecuted DeKalb for its failures over the years, the lawsuit says.

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, who was elected in 2016, said in April that the county was making strides under the Consent Decree but likely would not meet some targets by the 2020 deadline.

In its statement, the county said that it has tried to work with the Watershed Alliance to address its concerns.

“The County has engaged directly with SRWA for the betterment of the South River, including, most recently, the County funding and supporting South River clean-up activities and contributing over $500,000 to acquire a trash trap requested by SRWA,” the statement said.

Read more | DeKalb CEO: County will miss 2020 sewer fix deadline