The EPA says DeKalb County’s plan to end sewage spills doesn’t have to be ideal; judge to decide

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By David Pendered

The Biden administration has decided that DeKalb County’s efforts to prevent raw sewage from flowing into waterways need not be ideal. They just need to improve the current situation.

An Atlanta federal judge has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday on the proposed amendment to the DeKalb County Sewer Consent Order to repair its sewage system. (File / Photo by Kelly Jordan)

This question is one of those that will be discussed Wednesday in the United States District Court in Atlanta. A federal judge is reviewing the terms of a proposed deal to give DeKalb more time to fix its sewer leaks. DeKalb missed the original June 2020 deadline, as set out in the 2011 federal consent decree, and is requesting an extension until December 20, 2027.

The US Department of Justice argues in a brief that US District Court Judge Steven Grimberg is under no obligation to find the best solution to fix sewer leaks. Instead, the judge must simply find a solution that is in the “public interest”.

Here’s how the US Department of Justice defines the judge’s job:

  • “To assess whether a proposed settlement is in the public interest: [t]he should run. . . keep in mind the flexibility of the public interest investigation:
  • [T]The function of the tribunal is not to determine whether the resulting range of rights and responsibilities “is the one better serve society ”, but only to confirm that the resulting settlement is“ within the achieved of the public interest. [Emphasis supplied in the brief and original ruling.]

This language comes from a 1995 antitrust case brought by the US government against Microsoft, Inc. The judge in the Microsoft case had to determine whether an antitrust consent decree was “in the public interest”, according to the Microsoft. decision by the United States Court of Appeals in Washington.

The Department of Justice, on behalf of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, appears to apply this “within the limits of the public interest” provision in various aspects of the terms proposed to amend DeKalb’s federal consent order.

For example, justice does not point out that DeKalb County did not meet the deadline of December 2017 to develop a particular tool to predict sewage spills. The deadline was in the original federal consent decree, and DeKalb still does not have the tool approved. The amended draft authorization decree does not mention a deadline for the development of the tool.

There’s no doubt the county has completed part of the tool, creating a mathematical model that predicts spills resulting from average or “static” sewer flow through pipes in dry weather.

However, DeKalb’s sewage system does not tend to leak in dry weather. It leaks during rainy events, when rainwater enters old and leaking sewer lines, combining human waste with stormwater, resulting in spills. .

The “dynamic” model to be created by 2017 was to incorporate the impact of rainfall events, predicting sewer capacity issues and sewer spills when the system is overloaded. .

The issue of the dynamic hydraulic model is a salient point of the sole opposition to the judge’s acceptance of the proposed amended consent order, which was submitted by the South River Watershed Alliance.

The South River Watershed Alliance is an authorized intervenor in the matter. The objection he raised is cited in the document filed by the Department of Justice.

The objection of the alliance makes two demands of the judge:

  • Appoint an independent third party to certify that the sewage system has the capacity to treat wastewater from any house, building or other proposed development. This, instead of allowing DeKalb to oversee the certification of sewer capacity;
  • Keep the third-party monitor in place until a dynamic hydraulic model is created, approved by the EPA and EPD, and put into routine service.

The response from the South River Watershed Alliance observes:

  • “[T]there is no way to know how long the county will be using the “Interim Sanitary Sewer Capacity Assessment Program” [the static hydraulic model] to approve new connections as the revised consent decree amendment has no deadline for the EPA / EPD to approve dynamic hydraulic models.
  • “The South River Watershed Alliance is requesting that an independent third party oversee all capacity certifications until dynamic hydraulic models are used to calculate capacity.
  • “This additional review will help prevent spills from new connections, even if such third-party monitoring is hampered by the lack of an approved dynamic hydraulic model.”

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