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DeKalb County water cutoffs resume after five years, sewer decree advances

By David Pendered

DeKalb County water and sewer issues continue to roil, as some residents continue to grapple with unusually high water bills and a federal judge has scheduled a hearing to discuss the $1-plus billion proposal for the county to stop dumping raw sewage into waterways by Dec. 20, 2027.

A federal judge in Atlanta has scheduled a hearing Sept 22 on the proposed modification of DeKalb County’s sewer consent decree to repair its sewer system. (File/Photo by Kelly Jordan)

Wednesday is the first day in five years the county is resuming the cut-off of water service to residential customers who haven’t paid their bills. The purpose of the moratorium was to provide time to repair a billing system that sent some customers monthly bills in the thousands of dollars.

DeKalb has established four methods for customers to rectify their past due balance:

  • Pay the past due in full and get a credit of up to a year of late fees;
  • Set up a seven-year payment program, with at least $25 going to the past due amount, plus full payment of the real-time bill;
  • Seek a COVID-19 Hardship Installment Plan;
  • Dispute the bill.

The county has been trying to end the moratorium for months. Officials contend new processes and procedures have resolved most problems. Some ratepayers continue to post their woes on a Facebook page titled, “Unbelievable DeKalb Water Bills.” A few recent posts observe:

  • Erin Vitkus: “We just moved to DeKalb County and got our first water bill…. Over $1,000 which certainly seemed wrong to us, there are only 3 people living here. We called to speak with someone about it and they said our water usage was mostly normal but between 10-11 pm last week we used 70k gallons of water in ONE HOUR. They asked if we had a leaking toilet….”
  • Stacy Lawson: “I had to make a payment plan with them. My bill is $6,000, so I have to pay $276 a month, which includes what I owe each month plus the $6,000 owed. It’s such a shame.”
  • Bhavik Shah: “We’ve been getting ridiculously high water bills ($300-500). All of a sudden our bill is $5.71. The only thing we did different is put in a water meter. It couldn’t have made THIS much of a difference. Can anyone explain the discrepancy or did DeKalb finally figure out they’ve been overcharging us?”

The South River is not part of the federal consent decree compelling DeKalb County to repair its sewer system. (File/Photo by Kelly Jordan)

The county’s sewer system may soon be operating under a modified consent decree.
U.S. District Judge Steven D. Grimberg has scheduled a hearing on Sept. 22 for DeKalb County to present the proposed modifications to the existing decree. Grimberg’s order, issued Aug. 26, advises the hearing will be conducted remotely due to the public health emergency.

The decree was expected to have been signed around the start of this year. However, the Environmental Protection Agency had requested a series of delays to consider 39 comments presented by the public. The EPA is satisfied that the comments do not provide reason for the modification to be judged “inappropriate, improper or inadequate,” according to a motion in the case.

DeKalb estimates the repair costs will exceed $1 billion to complete work necessary to stop raw sewage from flowing into waterways in the priority areas. The sum does not address sewage that flows into the South River, because there is no deadline to stop sewage spills into the South River, according to the consent decree signed by the county, state and federal governments. The American Rivers organization cited the South River as an example of environmental injustice in naming it to this year’s list of Most Endangered Rivers.

All the work is to be complete by Dec. 20, 2027, according to the motion.

 

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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1 Comment

  1. Steve September 5, 2021 11:41 am

    Great article. Thanks for mentioning the South River. One thing you left out was the South River’s 2016 Ga Water Coalitions Dirty Dizen Award.Report

    Reply

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