Scientists from Georgia State University plan to spend three years studying DeKalb County’s aging water system -- and the sewage spills that threaten it -- in hopes of determining fixes that could be duplicated elsewhere.
The focus of the study on DeKalb’s watershed will be to determine how the environment interacts with infrastructure that is past its prime. For example, researchers will monitor how rainwater often seeps into DeKalb’s sewer system, taxing wastewater treatment plants.
“We hope our approach will offer lessons on how we learn about critical water issues especially in the context of cities growing rapidly,” Ellis Adams, an assistant professor of global studies and geosciences at Georgia State, said in a news release.
DeKalb’s water system has been troubled for decades. Last week, a conservation group filed a lawsuit saying the county had not done enough to prevent sewage spills and contamination of streams and rivers.
The county is under a 10-year consent decree to reduce the number of sewage spills, but CEO Michael Thurmond has said much of its targets will not be met by the 2020 deadline.
DeKalb leaders say they are making progress by reducing major spills and ensuring their wastewater treatment plans are working effectively to release treated water back into the South River. The Georgia State researchers will use a $400,000 National Science Foundation grant to study the ways drinking water and wastewater often are mixed together with naturally flowing water in streams and rivers.
“Knowledge from this study could help the EPA and DeKalb County to prevent untreated sewage from entering the South River and its tributary creeks,” Richard Milligan, a GSU professor who specializes in environmental justice research, said.
DeKalb County was an ideal case to study because half of the county is in the Chattahoochee River basin, which flows to the Gulf of Mexico, and the other half resides in the South River basin, flowing to the Atlanta Ocean, the researchers said.
The county it gets all of its drinking water from the Chattahoochee but drains more than 30 million gallons of water each day into the South River.
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