Local

In Revised Plan, DeKalb Gets 7.5 More Years To Fix Sewers

A sewer, shown last year, that goes under a DeKalb County home’s backyard crosses a creek just behind the house. Trash and debris had accumulated on the pipe.
A sewer, shown last year, that goes under a DeKalb County home’s backyard crosses a creek just behind the house. Trash and debris had accumulated on the pipe.
Credit Bita Honarvar / For WABE
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DeKalb County would get another seven and a half years to fix its long-troubled sewer system and pay $1 million in fines under a revised agreement between the county and the state and federal governments.

DeKalb has been under a federal consent decree to fix the sewers for close to a decade. The county was supposed to have addressed its major issues by this past June, but it’s still years away from that.

In a virtual town hall earlier this week, DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond said the sewer problems go back decades, but the county is making better progress now.

“Every citizen, no matter whether he or she lives in North DeKalb, or South DeKalb, or East or West DeKalb will have an environment that’s protected and will have a quality of life that can be celebrated,” he said.

Officials laid the blame for the earlier lack of progress on the county’s previous leadership.

“When CEO Thurmond first started in 2017, we had a culture of mismanagement, dysfunction, poor communication within DeKalb County and within the Department of Watershed Management,” Maria Houser, DeKalb’s director of consent decree compliance, said.

Since 2017, Houser said, the county has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to repair and replace problem sewer lines.

But there’s still a lot more work ahead. Just this month, DeKalb had about 30 spills, adding up to more than seven million gallons of sewage, when the remnants of Hurricane Delta blew through.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state Environmental Protection Division and the county have now submitted a new agreement to the judge overseeing the case. In addition to the million-dollar fine, DeKalb will also be under more oversight with the new agreement, with more reporting requirements to the EPA and EPD, as well as to the court.

The revised consent decree isn’t final yet; once it’s posted to the federal register, there will be a public comment period on the plan.