DeKalb County Consent Decree
DeKalb County entered into the DeKalb County Consent Decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia Environmental Protection Division in December 2010.
The consent decree is a legally binding agreement in which DeKalb County takes responsibility for polluting the county’s creeks and river. As written, the consent decree only requires the county to: 1) assess the operations and management of the Department of Watershed Management, 2) assess the county’s wastewater collection and transmission system (sewer pipe system), and 3) make recommendations concerning how these functions and the system may be improved. DeKalb County is only required to do and will only do what is specifically stated in by the consent decree.
The success of the consent decree depends upon the inclusion of specific language specifying what DeKalb County must do to end water pollution. This language is currently not included.
Consent Decree and a Cleaner South River
We all want a cleaner South River. Clean water is necessary for healthy people and a healthy natural environment. Water in South River is not as clean as it could be or should be. According to Georgia Environmental Protection Division water quality data none of the major creeks that flow into the river or South River meet water quality standards set by the state.
The consent decree is south DeKalb County’s best chance for a cleaner South River but only if it contains a specific plan outlining how DeKalb County will reduce sewage pollution. Currently, such a plan does not exist.
Fats, Oils, and Grease, DeKalb County’s Number One Problem
The DeKalb County Department of Watershed Management admits that 70 percent of water pollution in DeKalb County is caused by fats, oils, and grease. Since 2006, upwards of 1,000 sewer spills have occurred in the county. Approximately 700 of these spills have been due to fats, oils, and grease. These numbers confirm that the county must aggressively deal with this problem if it is truly serious about addressing water pollution.
The seriousness of this crisis is in no way reflected in how the county plans to spend the $1.3 billion committed to satisfying the consent decree. Virtually, none of the $1.3 billion will be spent to eliminate pollution caused by fats, oils, and grease.
The county plans to spend approximately $700 million on wastewater projects primarily in North DeKalb County replacing old and decayed sewer pipes that are contributing to water pollution in the Chattahoochee River. Of the remaining funds, $300 million will be spent on drinking water projects and $300 million to build a new Snapfinger wastewater treatment plant.
Consent Decree Ignores Fats, Oils, and Grease Crisis
The main reason there is no money allocated to eliminate fats, oils, and grease pollution is because the DeKalb County consent decree is silent on exactly what the county must do to address the problem. The section of the consent decree that addresses fats, oils, and grease does not identify specific action the county must take. Without a specific plan there is no need for money. To review consent decree FOG section click here.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia Environmental Protection Division are neglecting their responsibility to protect the public’s health and environment by authorizing a consent decree that does not specify how the main source of pollution that led to the consent decree in the first place will be addressed.
The position of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia Environmental Protection Division is that DeKalb County is ultimately responsible for fixing its fats, oils, and grease problem. While this is certainly true, their need to assign responsibility does not explain or excuse their failure to require that the county put forth a workable plan.
Unless specific actions are written into the consent decree pollution of the county’s creeks and South River will continue, along with the threat of additional legal action by federal and state environmental regulators.
Why Are Fats, Oils, and Grease Bad for Sewer Pipes?
High quantities of fats, oils, and grease are found in many of the foods we eat everyday such as peanut butter, butter, margarine, ice cream, salad dressings and many others. When we fry, bake, or grill meat large amounts of fats, oils, and grease are created or used.
Primarily, it is the incorrect disposal of fats, oils, and grease that is responsible for the problem. When poured or washed down household drains these substances harden and build up in sewer pipes causing clogs. These clogs restrict the flow of sewage through the pipes causing them to break or overflow.
DeKalb County passed a fats, oils, and grease ordinance in 2007. The ordinance targets restaurants and eating establishments as well as institutions that prepare food such as schools and hospitals. In the years since the ordinance was passed the quantity of sewage spilled into waterways has increased rather than decreased indicating that educating citizens about the problem is essential to reducing sewage pollution in the county.
Your Consent Decree, Your Money, Your Elected Officials
It seems that fixing the county’s fats, oils, and grease problem is not a priority of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Georgia Environmental Protection Division or even DeKalb County. Therefore, it must become a priority of citizens.
Simply put, it is the citizens of DeKalb County who are “on the hook” for the consent decree. Citizens have the most to gain, cleaner water and a cleaner river, if the consent decree is successful and the most to lose, paying more money in fines, fees, and additional fixes, if it fails.
DeKalb County elected officials, Chief Executive Officer and Board of Commissioners, must ensure that the consent decree solves the problem that led to the action in the first place, and for this citizens’ must hold them accountable.
Therefore, it is critically important that citizens understand what is at stake. This brief discussion attempts to condense a rather complex topic to a more understandable form.
Now that you are armed with information, please follow through on the Citizen Call to Action outlined below.
Citizen Call to Action
Five (5) steps to solving the county’s fats, oils and grease problem!
DeKalb County elected officials are accountable to you. Email and call your Board of Commissioners representative and CEO Burrell Ellis and demand that they get involved in the consent decree process and actively participate in identifying real solutions to the county’s fats, oils, and grease crisis. Insist that the consent decree include a plan that will reduce fats, oils, and grease pollution.
Citizens must take personal responsibility and do their part to keep fats, oils, and grease out of the sewer pipe system. Taking responsibility also extends to educating others. Share information about how to reduce fats, oils, and grease with family, friends, and neighbors.
Prevention is the cure. Do not use household drains to dispose of fats, oils, and grease. Pour into a suitable sealed container and place in trash. Wipe containers used to prepare, store, or serve foods high in fats, oils, and grease with a paper towel, before hand-washing or placing in dishwasher, and throw towel in trash. These simple actions will have an enormous impact on the problem. Share these prevention tips with family, friends, and neighbors.
DeKalb County must undertake an aggressive and effective public education program regarding the hazards of fats, oils, and grease. This education program should be developed with the input of citizens to ensure that the message(s) is heard. Demand that your Board of Commissioners representative advocate for an effective public education program that works.
Urge elected officials to expand and support aggressive enforcement of the fats, oils, and grease ordinance. Currently, the county’s ordinance applies to restaurants and eating establishments and institutions that serve food such as schools and hospitals. At a minimum the county must take action to address the large amounts of fats, oils, and grease pollution from multi-family dwelling such as apartment complexes.
The increase in the number of sewage spills since the passage of the county’s fats, oils, and grease ordinance in 2007 confirms that more needs to be done. Source control is absolutely essential. Sewage pollution is a threat to public health as well as the environment. The county’s enforcement efforts should reflect this urgency.