Officials in DeKalb unveil $4.4 billion proposal to replace nearly 2,000 miles of outdated water pipes

During a meeting with the DeKalb County Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday, county officials unveiled a $4.4 billion plan to upgrade their existing water system. This ambitious project aims to replace approximately 2,000 miles of water pipes that will reach their 70-year lifespan by 2050.

The county’s pipes were initially installed in 1909, as mentioned in the presentation. Officials stated that in 1942, the county formed its water department and constructed a water treatment plan.

The population of DeKalb County has grown almost ninefold since 1940, and it has been over four decades since a major water main was installed in the Southwest Tucker area, according to the county.

By 2030, over 40% of the county’s pipes will have surpassed the 70-year mark. Given the age of the system and the county’s growth, it is imperative for officials to expand and update the existing infrastructure in order to adequately cater to the needs of the residents.

The DeKalb County Watershed Management Department has invested a staggering $1.25 billion since 2017, with over $520 million dedicated solely to water-related projects, according to county officials.

The county is projected to spend approximately $262 million in 2024. However, officials mentioned that this spending is limited by the available funding.

To cater to the needs of its residents, DeKalb County acknowledged the requirement for several improvements. A major challenge arises from the fact that the county is the sole one in the metro Atlanta area of comparable magnitude that relies solely on the Chattahoochee River as its water supply source, along with having just one water treatment plant.

The county’s presentation states that the construction of the Scott Candler Water Treatment Plant took place in 2009. According to projections for the year 2050, the reservoirs at Scott Candler will only have the capacity to store water for 12 days at the predicted levels. This is based on estimates of the average daily demand and water usage.

The aging water system in DeKalb County is facing potential challenges due to a combination of structural issues and the presence of aging facilities. DeKalb County has approximately 3,000 miles of water pipe, with diameters ranging from 1.5 to 54 inches.

The county’s water transmission mains, due to their age, have experienced various failures. These failures have been documented, with examples including a pipeline failure on Buford Highway in 2019 and a more recent pipeline failure on McLendon Road between February and April.

According to the county, the Buford Highway and McLendon pipelines are responsible for carrying approximately 35% of the total water flow in the county’s system.

In February, there was a pipeline failure on McLendon that resulted in a loss of water access. However, the issue was quickly resolved within two days, thanks to the efficient repair and restoration efforts. Similarly, during the April break, the pipeline at McLendon was repaired within a day, although it caused water disruption for approximately 40 homes. The repair crews worked diligently overnight to ensure that water access was restored as soon as possible.

According to Channel 2’s Steve Gehlbach, residents expressed their frustration at the time.

Neighbor Jim Dymek expressed his frustration with the recurring water main breaks in the area. He highlighted the sight of water flowing down the street and questioned the county’s approach to fixing the issue. Dymek emphasized the need for a permanent and effective solution to the problem.

Officials have reported that the frequency of breaks in the water system is increasing more than other water utilities in the region, primarily due to its age.

According to the American Water Works Association, water utilities in the southern region typically experience a median of 16 water main breaks for every 100 miles of pipe. However, in DeKalb, officials have observed a significantly higher rate of 33 breaks per 100 miles, which is more than double the median.

Officials have proposed the following solutions to address the problems in the county water system:

    • $250 million to address remnant portions of old plant, create redundant clearwells for a 60% increase in water storage, upgrade transfer pumps, upgrade controls and support remote operation and add a redundant primary power supply
    • $650 million in spending over 25 years to increase transmission capacity through a 60-inch water main addition
    • $135 million for a new water treatment plant going to Northlake Mall
    • $76 million to replace remaining water mains from 1970 to 1972
    • Spend $4.4 billion to replace 1,745 miles of water pipe that would be 70 years old by 2050

The county’s Governing Authority is being sought for approval to move forward on contracts and funding for several projects outlined in the Capital Improvement 2024 plan. Another presentation was made to highlight these projects.

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MBS Staff
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