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    DeKalb officials present $4.4 billion plan to replace almost 2,000 miles of aging water pipes

    By Sam Sachs,


    At a Tuesday meeting with the DeKalb County Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, county officials presented a plan to replace parts of their current water system for $4.4 billion. That price tag is for the county to replace nearly 2,000 miles of water pipes that will be 70 years old by 2050.

    According to the presentation, the county’s pipes were first installed in 1909. In 1942, the county established its water department and built a water treatment plan, officials said.

    The population of DeKalb County now is nearly nine times larger than in 1940, and the county said they last added a major water main in 1974 in the Southwest Tucker area.

    By 2030, more than 40% of the county’s pipes will be over 70 years old, and the age of the system and the growth in the county means officials will have to expand the system and update existing infrastructure to meet the needs of the residents.

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    Since 2017, county officials said the DeKalb County Watershed Management Department has invested $1.25 billion, with more than $520 million just on water.

    In 2024 alone, the county will spend about $262 million, though the presentation by officials said this spending was constrained by the funding available.

    To meet the needs of residents, DeKalb County said multiple improvements would be needed. Part of the issue at hand is that the county is the only one in the metro Atlanta area of its size with just a single water supply source, the Chattahoochee River, and only one water treatment plant.

    The Scott Candler Water Treatment Plant was built in 2009, according to the county’s presentation. Based on projections of the average daily demand and water use in 2050, reservoirs at Scott Candler will only be able to provide 12 days of storage at the predicted levels, the county said.


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    A combination of structural issues and “remnant aging facilities” at the plant were cited as potential challenges for the aging water system. There are roughly 3,000 miles of water pipe in DeKalb County with sizes ranging from 1.5 to 54 inches in diameter.

    The age of the county’s water transmission mains has led to what officials called failures. Examples shown date back to a Buford Highway pipeline failure in 2019, and most recently, the failure of a pipeline on McLendon Road between February and April .

    The county said the Buford Highway and McLendon pipelines carry about 35% of all water flow in the county’s system.

    As previously reported by Channel 2 Action News, when the pipeline failed in February on McLendon, it took only two days to repair and restore water access. While the April break at McLendon was repaired after a day, and crews worked overnight, at least 40 homes had no water.

    Residents told Channel 2′s Steve Gehlbach at the time that they were frustrated.

    “Go out and see water going down the street and so it’s the same water main break over and over and over again,” neighbor Jim Dymek said. “How many times does the county have to fix it to fix it properly?”

    The age of the system is causing the breaks to happen more often than most water utilities in the region, according to officials.

    The American Water Works Association reports that water utilities in the south have a median value of 16 water main breaks for every 100 miles of pipe, but officials say in DeKalb, it’s at 33 breaks per 100 miles instead, more than double the median.

    To fix issues in the county water system, here’s what officials proposed:

    • $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

    Another presentation on the county’s Capital Improvement 2024 plan seek the county’s Governing Authority approval to move forward on contracts and funding for some of the projects.

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