DeKalb: County can’t put off expensive water fixes

There is no question that the water infrastructure in the Atlanta region is old and limited. Regular sewer breaks and breaches permit unconscionable volumes of sewage to invade our creeks and streams. Georgia’s “water wars” are linked to the consumption of water by the growing Atlanta population. Employers settle down in locations where there is reliable long-term water and sewer service. A new water and sewer infrastructure is unlike other capital improvement projects (CIP) that can be put off in bad times. A water CIP will stop ongoing environmental insults, reduce the impact of adverse legal decisions associated with the water wars, and attract potential job producers.

The only objection to a water CIP is paying for it.

This age-old objection is natural, but immaterial. We must pay for it; the question is how? If we choose the current plan under discussion in DeKalb County, DeKalb could safely and efficiently replace the brittle sewers by hiring from a broad pool of unemployed skilled labor and by borrowing at historically low interest rates. This will result in higher, but reasonable, water rates.

If we choose to put it off, DeKalb will continue to replace the sewers as they break by hiring laborers during unsafe emergency situations and pay fines for polluting the environment; this will result in higher and uncertain water rates. Then, at some later date, DeKalb will have to increase the rates for making the repairs that are needed now and the cost will be at some future rate.

These are uncommonly hard times and it’s a bad time for another cost increase. If you had to replace your breaks, you would cut back somewhere else and find the best value for the work needed. We expect the same or more from our government.

Our current low water rates are because our past investment was made long ago. We must also note that the recent rate increase was the result of legal requirements imposed on DeKalb because of the drought. So how do we best minimize the cost? The proposed rate increase is due to three main elements: 1) what is planned, 2) low interest rates, 3) the low labor rates. Since the rate is low, no one should object to paying off expensive old debt at a lower rate — saving money.

Since the interest rate is fixed, DeKalb can best keep new costs down by focusing on only the necessary work and matching the correct labor skills to the work. DeKalb’s laborers will focus on doing their job as long as we hold their managers responsible for managing. This provides my fellow hawks with two items to focus on: the managers’ tracking and the project prioritization.

The water experts have identified the oldest of the infrastructure, the most burdened infrastructure and the most frequently ruptured infrastructure. These deserve the highest priority and these are planned first. I am particularly concerned for the Snapfinger watershed because it is old and I have watched it erode as its systems have decayed. At this time, the other, slightly younger, slightly less-burdened and slightly less-frequently ruptured infrastructure, can be put off. They are being put off in the current plan. It should be the job of my fellow hawks to ensure that those system improvements occur at the right time. This would be the best government for the people.

Greg Zarus is mayor of Pine Lake.