Channel 2's Richard Belcher reports.

More sewer spills uncovered in DeKalb

DeKalb’s government admitted Thursday that it failed to report even more raw sewage spills as the county remains under investigation by federal and state environmental agencies.

The county recently discovered six additional spills that were large enough to reach creeks and rivers over the last four years, said spokesman Burke Brennan. DeKalb previously acknowledged in August it had underreported 35 other spills.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division could impose fines on the county.

In all, DeKalb had 561 sewage spills from 2012 to 2015. The county is under a federal court order to upgrade its sewer system and reduce overflows from manholes and pipes.

The county government disclosed the additional spills, along with 17 overflows that didn’t reach public waterways, after environmental authorities sought further information, Brennan said. Government employees researched 300,000 records including emails, sewer service complaints and water line breaks.

“This entire process is a result of more stringent record-keeping and oversight,” Brennan said. “When we discover errors, we report them, and these discoveries are an indication of a process that’s working.”

Snapfinger Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility on Sept. 20, 2013. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division declined to comment Thursday because it hasn’t received the county’s final report, said spokesman Kevin Chambers.

The number of sewage spills in DeKalb has gradually declined in recent years, but the county’s aging sewer system is still on track to have more than 100 overflows that reach public waters this year, according to previous reports to environmental agencies.

The county is behind schedule on $1.345 billion in water and sewer upgrades of treatment plants, water mains and pipes. Five and a half years into the project, the county had spent $249 million, or 19 percent of the total, through the end of 2015.

It’s unclear why these sewage spills weren’t previously reported to environmental agencies, but Brennan said the county owned up to the additional overflows when it found them in an exhaustive search of government files.

“As part of the ongoing process to maintain compliance and transparency, we are revising our reports to reflect the correction,” he said.

EPD didn’t say when its review of DeKalb will be complete or how much potential fines could cost the government and its taxpayers.

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