Sunday Morning Meditation – WTF, DeKalb?

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt July 26, 2015
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

I’m at a loss to explain to readers how one mower running over a fire hydrant four days ago could lead to widespread water pressure and possible contamination issues throughout DeKalb County.

Restaurants have had to close early. Decatur’s Slide the City event shut down. It’s an open question whether that was due to the lack of water – it runs on a closed circulation system, we were told – or because it just looked bad to turn your city into a big-ass water slide when people can’t flush their toilets.

As county residents struggled with low to non-existent water pressure, the county government didn’t apparently feel any pressure to inform people about what the hell was going on. The first day of the break, there was not even a word from DeKalb about what might be happening. The next day the county pledged to do better. But even its improved efforts are still lacking. DeKalb’s Twitter feed has been the best source of up-to-date and official information. Beyond that, we’re having to depend on what we’re hearing through the grapevine.

A few questions:

1) When will water pressure return for all residents?

2) How many residents are affected?

3) When will the boil water advisory be lifted?

4) There are rumors circulating that some groups got the boil water advisory ahead of everyone else: Is this accurate?

The county did provide an answer to this question:

Spokesperson Emily Schwartz said, “Unaware of an advanced warning. The advisory is a precaution. Tests have not indicated contamination and are still being conduction.

“Just now receiving reports that a partially closed valve was causing a problem. It is being worked on as pressure steadily climbs to affected areas.

“We are encouraging our water customers who do they water to refrain from large uses of water, including washing cars, giving dogs a bath or using irrigation systems. Holding back on use will help the system get back up to speed quicker.”

5) How, exactly, does a fire hydrant getting hit by a lawn mower cause this much trouble over four days?

6) What is the county doing to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again?

That’s just my short list of questions, but I’m sure I can think of a few more and so can our readers.

In short, WTF, DeKalb?

Whenever the water pressure is restored and people don’t have to boil water before brushing their teeth, we need an accounting of what happened and why. I am calling on all of our county commissioners to demand a thorough and transparent investigation of what took place.

This is, at worst, a persistent nuisance for residents. And let’s not kid ourselves: things like this are going to happen in a big city. But it shouldn’t drag on this long and if the water isn’t flowing, the lines of communication with residents better be. If the county’s water infrastructure can’t handle a mower hitting a fire hydrant, what are we going to do if something really serious happens?

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • Doug Denton

    Forget it, Dan. It’s DeKalb County.

  • Tom Doolittle

    My impression is the water main isn’t a main–its the primary trunk for the entire county. The only way hitting a fire hydrant can cause a break in the trunk is for the hydrant to be connected directly to it. Huh???? Who designed that–an emergency just waiting to happen. Trunks should have ZERO above ground exposure.

  • Tom Doolittle

    Not a WTF moment…its a Cluster F__k moment…its a Katrina Weekend. CEO May just dropped in to tell his Homeland Chief he’s “doing a heckuva job”.

    • rob

      Your an idiot to compare this to Katrina!

    • Marjorie Snook

      1000 people died in Katrina. We had to boil water for a few days, which is the way that billions of people around the world live every single day of their lives. This was bad, we need to get to the bottom of it, but to compare something so many people deal with every day to a mass casualty event is over the top.

  • Tom Doolittle

    Here’s your BTW moment…FEMA/GEMA had to close a mile away from the broken line because it had no bottled water.

    • Angela PM

      OMG, seriously? CRAZY PREPPERS, HERE WE COME!!

  • Hans

    Dan, I suspect your frustration is shared among every DeKalb resident. But we disagree on one fairly major point: this was not ‘at worst a persistent nuisance’.

    We have to boil water because there is a small but distinct risk of contaminated water. Each day the advisory continues increases the chance of contamination. The economic damage to businesses like restaurants is catastrophic. The impact to hospitals, nursing homes, and other caregivers is severe and requires significant emergency work-arounds. Last but not least it has likely constrained or compromised the County’s ability to combat fires in any of the impacted areas.

    This is anything but a nuisance. It is catastrophic. And the embarrassing lack of effective communication contributes to the sense of failure. By the grace of god we were ‘at worst’ inconvenienced. We were lucky.

    • Other people took exception to that line as well, which surprised me. My measuring stick is illness and death. To the best of my knowledge, no one got seriously ill or died over the issue. It was a persistent annoyance, however. I concede it could have been worse, but it wasn’t. That point doesn’t diminish the magnitude of the screw up, in my option. But I could see where people would think I was understating it a bit. I was trying not to overstate it.

      • Hans

        Fair point…but that’s what I mean by ‘lucky’. Not providing safe water is one of the fastest ways to sicken and hurt a wide range of people very quickly. I’m not saying the event resulted in human catastrophe…it did not. But the County’s response was definitionally catastrophic. And they operated that way for three days with effectively zero margin for accident or error. I agree there should be hearings. We need to know why normal emergency response protocols were not followed, or if they were why they did not work. And you know me…normally I’m forgiving of minor mistakes or typical human error. This was not that. This was bad. This should not have happened.

  • Angela PM

    We are all one step closer to becoming preppers. This has shown us that we need to be more proactive about having water and other essentials stockpiled. We had one 8 pk of la croix for water. Um, that’s not gonna do it. Dekalb county water dept has always been horrible and they continually get a pass from the county. WTF indeed. >:(

  • Eva Shaw

    Check out the engineers that designed the placement of the fire hydrant. Poor management and poor performance is the rule in DeKalb County.

    • Jan Atlanta

      “Poor management and poor performance is the rule in DeKalb County”. Yes, you are anti cityhood, based on previous posts. Interesting.

      • Marjorie Snook

        Right, because new cities do nothing about the biggest problems, like watershed. They just add moew politicians on top of the ones that we already have, so you get to have both a corrupt watershed AND, if you are unlucky enough to be a citizen of Brookhaven, a city government that is, according to the state Attorney General, breaking state open records laws while gleefully spending all infrastructure money on paving their own streets while leaving entire city districts without a penny for resurfacing projects.,

        If you have a problem with poor management and poor performance, you fix it. You don’t hire a bunch of new bozos to sit around and do more of the same.

  • GPS

    Clayton County of the north?

  • Jan Atlanta

    Posted on LaVista Hills Alliance FB page (with link to a Decaturish article):

    We pay our taxes to DeKalb County and expect accountable and responsible government and service delivery. Not the blame game. Vote for cityhood and help DeKalb County FOCUS on providing basic services to citizens.

    ‘”They’ve got to get experienced people back into the county and in charge,’ (contractor) Salvo said. ‘In 2010 a whole bunch of people with experience took early retirement. Everybody that knew what was going on retired.'”

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