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DeKalb County Clean Water Act Settlement

(Washington, DC - December 13, 2010) DeKalb County, Ga. has agreed to make major improvements to its sanitary sewer systems in an effort to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated sewage, the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced today. 

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Overview of Company

The Department of Watershed Management at DeKalb County (County) is responsible for sewage management of its separate sewer system. The County owns and operates two wastewater treatment plants:

  • Snapfinger Creek Water Pollution Control Plant
  • Pole Bridge Creek Water Pollution Control Plant

The County's two treatment facilities have a designed treatment capacity of 106 million gallons per day and processes on average, 78 million gallons per day. The County also sends sewage to other treatment facilities located in other municipalities such as Fulton County and the City of Atlanta.

The County's sewage collection and transmission system includes approximately 2,600 miles of sewer lines, 55,000 manholes and 66 lift stations.

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The Complaint alleges the following Clean Water Act violations:

  • Illegal Discharges of Untreated Sewage. The United States alleges that on numerous occasions in the last five years, pollutants were discharged to waters of the United States, or the state, from sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). These SSOs are from point sources within DeKalb County's collection and transmission systems which were not identified in the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit as authorized outfalls. None of these discharges were permitted or otherwise authorized by the Act.
  • Failure to Comply with Permit Conditions: Operation and Maintenance Violations. The United States alleges that the County failed to efficiently operate and maintain the collection and transmission systems of its treatment works. This operation and maintenance failure is a violation of the operation and maintenance provisions of its NPDES permits and resulted in many of the SSOs.

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Injunctive Relief

The County estimates it will spend approximately $700 million to complete the requirements under the Consent Decree and other improvements.

The injunctive relief outlined in the Consent Decree requires the County to develop and implement Capacity, Management, Operations and Maintenance (CMOM) programs and assess/rehabilitate the sewer system. Details of the injunctive relief are summarized below.

Capacity, Management, Operations and Maintenance

The County will improve and continue to develop programs to ensure effective capacity, management, operations and maintenance of their sanitary sewer system. The County will continue to develop, improve and implement the following programs:

  • Contingency and Emergency Response Plan
  • Fats, Oil and Grease Management Program
  • Sewer Mapping System
  • Maintenance Management System Program
  • Collection and Transmission Systems Training Program
  • System-Wide Flow and Rainfall Monitoring Program
  • System-Wide Hydraulic Model
  • Financial Analysis Program
  • Infrastructure Acquisition Program

Sewer Assessment and Rehabilitation Program

Since the highest number of SSOs experienced in 2006 the County has worked to expand and formalize assessment and rehabilitation of the wastewater collection and transmission systems.

Under the Consent Decree, the County will continue to implement their sewer assessment and rehabilitation program while revising and adding to their current programs. The assessment and the rehabilitation of the sanitary sewer system will take place under two programs:

  • Priority Areas Sewer Assessment and Rehabilitation Program (PASARP)
  • Ongoing Sewer Assessment and Rehabilitation Program (OSARP)

Priority Areas Sewer Assessment and Rehabilitation Program (PASARP)

Under the PASARP, the County will focus on priority areas for sewer assessment and rehabilitation. The County identified "initial priority areas" based on the completed sewer assessments and information. The initial priority areas consist of areas:

  • where sewers are estimated to be greater than 50 years old
  • where significant sewer leaks or capacity problems are presently known to exist
  • determined by the County's present maintenance program as needing additional assessment and/or rehabilitation
  • The initial priority areas represent approximately 18 percent of the wastewater collection and transmission system
One year from the date of the Consent Decree entry, the County will submit the PASARP that will contain identification and incorporation of "additional priority areas." The additional priority areas will be selected using criteria such as:
  • relative age of the waste collection and transmission infrastructure
  • estimated rainfall dependent inflow and infiltration into the system
  • proactive and reactive maintenance records
  • SSO records
  • known structural defects
  • relative risk that SSOs are likely to reach surface waters
  • relative risk of SSOs to public health
  • standard industry practices and best professional judgment
The PASARP will include specifications on how to conduct sewer evaluation activities such as:
  • dyed water flooding
  • corrosion identification
  • manhole condition assessments
  • flow monitoring
  • closed circuit television inspection
  • gravity sewer line and force main defect analysis
  • smoke testing
The PASARP will discuss how to identify, prioritize, track and complete the rehabilitation measures of all of the initial and additional priority areas no later than eight and one-half years from the date of Consent Decree entry.

Ongoing Sewer Assessment and Rehabilitation Program (OSARP)

No later than two years from date of entry the County will submit OSARP to ensure continuous assessment and rehabilitation of the entire wastewater collection and transmission system. The OSARP will contain procedures for:

  • proactively identifying, delineating and prioritizing areas for assessment
  • identifying, prioritizing and implementing rehabilitation projects
  • tracking and inventorying completed rehabilitation projects
The OSARP will continually assess and rehabilitate the County's entire sewer system to ensure proper operation and maintenance.

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Pollutant Reductions

  • Total Suspended Solids (TSS) reduced by 9,743 pounds per year
  • Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) reduced by 9,424 pounds per year
  • Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) reduced by 22,133 pounds per year
  • Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen reduced by 1,437 pounds per year
  • Total Phosphorous reduced by 272 pounds per year

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Health and Environmental Effects

  • Total Suspended Solids (TSS) indicates the measure of suspended solids in wastewater, effluent or water bodies. High levels of TSS in a water body can diminish the amount of light that penetrates the water column and reduce photosynthesis and the production of oxygen.
  • Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) is an indirect measure of the biologically degradable material present in organic wastes. A High BOD indicates an abundance of biologically degradable material that will consume oxygen from the water during the degradation process. It may take away oxygen that is needed for aquatic organisms to survive.
  • Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) is a measure of the oxygen required to oxidize both organic and inorganic compounds in water. Much like BOD, a high COD can deprive aquatic organisms of oxygen needed for survival.
  • Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen is the sum of organic nitrogen, ammonia and ammonium. Nitrogen is an essential element for primary production. Excess nitrogen can lead to eutrophication of a water body due to the excess growth of aquatic plants. Excess aquatic plants on the water's surface will impede sunlight in the water column, and can result in hypoxic waters (i.e. insufficient oxygen in water to support aquatic life).
  • Total Phosphorous is an essential element for primary production and much like nitrogen, excess amounts can lead to eutrophication and hypoxic waters that are unable to sustain aquatic organisms.

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Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs)

The County agreed to perform an SEP consisting of a one-time clean up of three designated streams that have been affected by spills: the South River, South Fork Peachtree Creek and Snapfinger Creek. This SEP will not only improve the quality and sustainability of the streams but also promote public involvement and awareness in keeping urban streams clean.

Within 12 months of the date of entry of the Consent Decree, the County will submit for review and comment a Stream Cleanup Plan containing the details of the SEP. The Consent Decree requires the Stream Cleanup Plan to include the following details:

  • maps, descriptions and locations (including lengths of stream and GIS coordinates) of the stream segments to be cleaned
  • criteria used to select the locations including details such as:
    • amount of debris and trash to be cleaned up
    • visibility, accessibility, proximity to low income or minority communities
    • ecological value
    • potential to advance public awareness of keeping streams clean
  • method used to involve low income or minority communities adjacent to the streams
  • schedule for clean up
  • data to be collected during the cleanup
  • County's proposed approach to inform the general public about the stream clean up (e.g. publicize via print material, television, radio, internet, etc.).

The County will describe what communities, with emphasis on communities adjacent to the streams, will be targeted for participation in the stream cleanup and how it plans to raise the public awareness of the importance of keeping urban streams clean.

The County must complete the stream cleanup within 12 months of when EPA and the state approve the Stream Cleanup Plan.

For more information on Supplemental Environmental Projects, please visit EPA's SEP page.

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Civil Penalty

The County will pay a civil penalty totaling $453,000 with the U.S. and the State of Georgia each receiving $226,500.

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State Partners

The state of Georgia joined EPA in this consent decree.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comment is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For more information, contact:

Benjamin Bahk
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (2243A)
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-4293
Benjamin Bahk (

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