Decatur City Commission to residents: We did our best during water debacle

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt July 29, 2015
Photo obtained via DeKalb County's Twitter page @ItsInDeKalb

Photo obtained via DeKalb County’s Twitter page @ItsInDeKalb

Decatur, like other DeKalb County cities, depends on the county for water and sewer services.

The city got a painful reminder of that over the weekend after a man-made emergency shut down what was supposed to be a major event for the city. There had been 3,600 tickets sold for a 1,000 foot water slide down West Ponce de Leon, but it had to be closed early thanks to the county’s inability to resolve water pressure issues.

City Commissioners released a statement on July 29 informing residents of what the city did during the DeKalb-inflicted crisis.

“Though we could not fix the source of the problem, the city did try to minimize the impact on city residents and businesses,” the statement says.

A water main break occurred on July 23 when someone hit a fire hydrant with a mower. The hydrant sits on a 48-inch main at Henderson Mill and Evans roads. The problem was fixed on Sunday, but the advisory, which began on Saturday, remained in effect through Monday evening, July 27.

The problems left many residents and business owners, particularly restaurants, frustrated. Some restaurants had to limit their menus to avoid using the county water during the advisory.

But this isn’t the only time the city has run into problems with the county Department of Watershed Management. The department held up a mixed use apartment project on East Trinity Place after telling a developer to pay $300,000 in impact fees. The request came months after the county sent the developer a letter stating there was sufficient capacity. The sewer line that connects to the Trinity Project runs down Maple Street. The city of Decatur had already completed about $1.5 million worth of storm water improvements on that street in 2014 and portions of the street were cut open throughout 2013 and into early 2014. Eventually the developer and DeKalb agreed to split the costs.

Here is the full statement from the Decatur City Commission.

To our City of Decatur community:

We want to thank you for your patience and perseverance during the water issues of the past four days. As of Monday night we are no longer under a boil water advisory. While the city provides many essential services, including police and fire, DeKalb County Department of Watershed Management manages the water pipes and sewer system for everyone in the county, including the City of Decatur.

Though we could not fix the source of the problem, the city did try to minimize the impact on city residents and businesses. This included:

  • Keeping the public updated with the limited information that we could get via blog, website, Smart911 call and text alerts, @DowntownDecatur Twitter feed and the city’s Facebook page.
  • Ending Saturday’s Slide the City event early.
  • Establishing two cooling stations on Saturday at the Decatur Recreation Center and Ebster Gym.
  • Bringing in a water filtration tanker to provide water to seniors and special needs residents who could not easily boil water. Firefighters distributed more than 500 gallons of drinkable water.
  • Having the Fire Department refill the water in the air conditioning system at Clairmont Oaks so residents of this senior housing facility remained cool.
  • Coordinating emergency services with DeKalb County Fire Services so that back-up equipment and water tankers were available.

Our community came together and supported one another by checking on neighbors and sharing water, letting those who did not have running water shower in your homes, supporting local businesses that remained open in compliance with the boil advisory and most important, remaining calm during a trying situation.

We hope a situation like this never happens again. However, emergencies can occur at any time. Here are steps you can take now to be better prepared in case of a future emergency:

  • Sign up for Smart911 alerts. The city uses the Smart911 system for phone and text alerts. It is very easy to create a Smart911 profile at If you already have a Smart911 profile please log in now and make sure you have checked the box to receive emergency alerts. If you need help setting up a Smart911 profile or would like city staff to meet with your neighborhood group or homeowners association, please contact the Decatur Fire Department at 404-373-5092 for assistance.
  • Also sign-up for CodeRed alerts. While the City of Decatur uses Smart911 for alerts, DeKalb County uses the CodeRed system. Since you are a resident of both the city and the county, it is a good idea to sign up with both systems so you can be sure to never miss an alert.
  • Keep extra bottled water and non-perishable food stored at your home at all times. There should be enough for several days for every member of your household, including pets. More information on how to build an emergency kit is available at

The Decatur City Commission
Jim Baskett, Mayor
Kecia Cunningham, Mayor pro temporare
Fred Boykin, Commissioner
Scott Drake, Commissioner
Patti Garrett, Commissioner

About Dan Whisenhunt

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  • srt_oak

    Dan, is there any talk of Decatur handling its own water in the future, like Atlanta does? Not sure this is even possible or feasible, but just curious….

    • No, but I doubt that would happen. It’s a huge capital expense and most governments wouldn’t want it on their books, but I believe DeKalb is obligated to provide it. Hans Utz, our columnist, might chime in here and clarify that point.

      • Don Rigger

        Seems like the practical hurdles would be bigger than the bureaucratic ones. Such as where would the water come from? Our largest surface water body is about 5 feet wide. I guess groundwater is a possibility, but would there be enough to meet our needs?

        • Marjorie Snook

          Above the fall line in Georgia, the aquifers aren’t productive enough to serve a city as large as Decatur. In general, Decatur is very small to run its own system and at the end of the day they would probably just purchase the water from DeKalb and redistribute it, since there’s no supply in their small area.

          Counties aren’t obligated to provide water. 20% of Georgians don’t have access to municipal water because they live in areas where it isn’t feasible to provide it. There are many cities that do their own water, but a lot of them, like I said, are just buying water from larger systems so they don’t have to build a treatment plant. Usually cities with their own water systems are a good bit bigger than Decatur, on rivers or in South Georgia where they can use groundwater for supply.

        • Marjorie Snook

          If you’re curious, and I was, in the metro area Smyrna, Fairburn, College Park, Marietta, Loganville, Lawrenceville, and Powder Springs all have their own water systems, but they are just purchasing their water from other systems. Roswell have their own surface water systems, but the are on the Chattahoochee.

          East Point pipes their water from Sweetwater Creek, so I guess it is possible.

    • Steve Vogel

      As a matter of fact, at one time Decatur had its own water system. The tank near Mason Mill Road is a vestige of that. It was sold to and merged with DeKalb many, many years ago. As others have said, the cost of owning and operating a separate system today make that impractical.

  • Graybeard

    Your besht? Losers alwaysh whine about their besht…

  • ThanksForThePublicSalarySucker

    Dear residents,
    We might screw this up again, no promises. If we do, you better be prepared, because were not. Stockpile food, water, ammo, and watch “Preppers”.

  • Doug Denton

    Dan, you might want to follow up with the USEPA, and research if DeKalb County has met minimal requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Has DeKalb demonstrated that they have an adequate Emergency Response Protocol in place? Has DeKalb demonstrated that they are truly capable of receiving certification for the operation and maintenance of a public drinking water system. Perhaps such research will lead to impetus for the DeKalb CEO and his Administration to implement mechanisms to protect the health and welfare of all DeKalb residents.

    Doug Denton
    DeKalb Soil & Water Conservation District

  • Doug Denton

    While it appears the City of Decatur did their best to inform residents, such efforts had minimal effects due to the lack of communication mechanisms in place within the DeKalb County government, on both technological and personnel fronts.

    As a point of clarification, the DeKalb Watershed Dept does continually meet Safe Drinking Water Act requirements for treatment of drinking water (at the Scott Candler facility). However, the public should have concerns for the County’s maintenance of the conveyance system ,and a lack of Emergency Notification Protocol, both of which should be covered under this Federal statute.

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