DeKalb had a 9.2 million gallon sewer spill last week

Snapfinger Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility on Sept. 20, 2013. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Snapfinger Advanced Wastewater Treatment Facility on Sept. 20, 2013. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

A single sewage spill sent about 9.2 million gallons of waste into a DeKalb County creek last week, officials announced late Monday.

The spill on Meadow Creek Path — about a mile northeast of the Snapfinger Wastewater Treatment Plant — is believed to be DeKalb's largest in more than a decade. It continues an already inauspicious start to 2020 for the county, which has long-standing sewer and infrastructure issues.

DeKalb officials blamed the massive spill on record-setting rain -- more than 18 inches so far this year, they said -- as well as the county’s work to improve the sewer system.

“A preliminary engineering analysis indicates that the Meadow Creek Path sewer spill was caused when the plant reached its treatment and storage capacity, which has been temporarily reduced by the ongoing construction of a new plant,” the county said in a news release distributed at 8 p.m. Monday.

An initial report about the sewer spill was distributed Thursday, the day after it was discovered. That initial report did not include an estimated spill volume.

DeKalb Watershed has done a lot of work, but people who work for the agency will tell you they still have a long way to go.

DeKalb County is under a federal consent decree to repair its aging wastewater system. While the county has dedicated more than $300 million to the cause in recent years, plenty of work remains to be done and heavy rains often produce significant issues.

(The phenomenon called “stormwater intrusion” occurs when rainwater enters the sewer system because of things like broken or damaged pipes, intrusive tree roots and other aging infrastructure. The extra water then forces sewage out of manholes and clogged pipes.)

Even before the 9.2-million-gallon event on Meadow Creek Path, DeKalb was off to a less-than-ideal start this year. About 90 other spills with a total estimated volume of 2.9 million gallons had already been reported.

That puts DeKalb at at least 12.1 million gallons in spills less than two months into the year — a figure already more than double the annual totals from 2018 and 2019.

Those numbers represented a marked decline from 2017, when total spills eclipsed 14 million gallons. As recently as last week, DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond was touting the progress being made under his leadership.

Thurmond took office in 2017, some six years after the county was placed under the consent decree ordering it to fix its wastewater system and eliminate sewer spills. Officials have admitted they won’t come close to meeting the decree’s deadline of this June, but they’re negotiating an extension with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division.

“I think the context has not been clearly articulated,” Thurmond said at a recent meeting with a group of county commissioners. “We’re here today because people did not do their jobs. And the management and the oversight, whatever was attempted, failed. This shouldn’t be my job. It should be ending now, now starting.”

The spill reported at Meadow Creek Path is believed to be the largest in DeKalb since a 10-million-gallon spill in 2006.

In Aug. 2017, separate spills of 6.4 million and 3.9 million gallons were reported near Stonecrest and Brookhaven, respectively.

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