Alliance to set goals on clean water

Photo by Stephen Kubiak

Photo by Stephen Kubiak

CONYERS -- The South River Watershed Alliance will meet next week to discuss its role in protecting the river and lay out its plan to improve water quality over the next 81/2 years in conjunction with DeKalb County's federal court consent decree.

The Alliance will meet at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 30, at the Decatur Library, located at 215 Sycamore St. in Decatur, and will present South River 2020, the group's initiative for better water quality in the river basin.

Described as an urban river, the South River begins in the city of Atlanta, winds through southern Rockdale County and ends in Jackson Lake in southern Newton County.

The South River has also been described as an impaired river by state and federal environmental regulators from excessive sewer spills and storm water polluting its waters. The city of Atlanta was forced under federal consent decree in the late 90s to improve its sewer system to prevent untreated sewerage from entering the South River's tributaries.

Recently, DeKalb County has also entered into a consent decree to fix sewerage infiltration into the South River.

Jackie Echols, president of the South River Watershed Alliance, said once DeKalb County signs the consent decree, officials agree to take steps to improve water quality in the river's basin through system upgrades and community outreach.

DeKalb County will have 81/2 years to implement the steps, agreed to with the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia's Environmental Protection Division.

Echols said the toughest job for the Alliance since its founding in 2000 was that the South River has always been low on the radar of public perception. She believes the consent decrees will mean more attention will be given to clean water in south DeKalb, Rockdale and Newton counties.

"The problem is that it's been really hard to get some traction on improving things on the South River because of this idea of 'once polluted, always polluted' has always been the approach to the South River," she said. "It's an urban river, but a lot of the pollution comes from man-made sources.

"The Alliance has been active around that, but it's been tough. The consent decree offers the traction," Echols continued. "There are specific things the county has to do. It's nothing a citizens group has to cajole, plead or beg them to do. They have to do this in eight and a half years."

She said the Alliance will work as an intervener in DeKalb's consent decree to increase the public participation and transparency in the decisions that will be made as the consent decree moves forward.

Saturday's meeting is a membership meeting and is also open to anyone with an interest in the South River.

For more information, call Echols at 404-285-3756 or Doug Denton, 404-931-5008.