DeKalb County needs billions to repair water system

Scott Candler Water Treatment Plant (Courtesy DeKalb County)

DeKalb County announced last week that it will cost $4.4 billion to replace 3,000 miles of water pipes by 2050.

County officials also estimated that by 2030, nearly 300 miles of pipeline will be added due to residential and commercial growth.  

DeKalb is well-known for water issues, including frequent water main breaks. Cities like Tucker and Brookhaven have taken over stormwater services because they believed they could service their population more efficiently than the county. 

Aging and undersized infrastructure are the root cause of problems like the Buford Highway pipeline failure in 2019 and two failures on McLendon Road in 2024. The two pipelines carry 35% of the county’s water. 

Pipes are made of cast iron, asbestos cement, PVC, or pre-stressed concrete. DeKalb averages about three breaks per day, which has dropped in the last five years but remains above average for the Southeast region, according to the county.

The Chattahoochee River is the sole source of DeKalb’s water. In 2007, part of Scott Candler Water Treatment Plan – the county’s only treatment plant – in Doraville was replaced, leaving remnants from the 1940s. 

Maria Houser is DeKalb’s direct of consent decree and environmental compliance. Photo provided by DeKalb County.

“That is unique in the metro area for such a large county as ourselves,” said Maria Houser, DeKalb County director of consent decree and environmental compliance. 

Houser delivered a presentation to the DeKalb County Public Works and Infrastructure committee on May 22. She said the county needs upgrades to the current plant, an additional water main, and new pipes. 

“We did not start investing in our infrastructure until a couple of years ago,” said Houser.

A slide shown during the DeKalb County Public County and Infrastructure committee meeting on May 22.

On a daily basis, 70-100 million gallons of water is pumped from the Chattahoochee River and brought into the plant for treatment, according to DeKalb’s website

In 2010, DeKalb agreed to make major improvements to its sanitary sewer systems in an effort to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated sewage, according to the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Violations of illegal discharge of untreated sewage and failure to comply with permits is costing the county $700 million under a consent decree. 

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