It was a problem decades in the making: raw sewage flowing into Proctor Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee River that winds through some of the most impoverished parts of Atlanta.
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Consent decree breakdown
A 1995 lawsuit filed by the environmental watchdog group, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, forced Atlanta officials to spend billions upgrading a long-ignored and failing wastewater system.
The legal action led to two federal consent decrees.
The first consent decree, issued in the late 1990s with the work completed in 2008, governed combined sewer overflows. In a combined system, both waste and stormwater flows in one pipe to a treatment center. The work involved separating three sewer basins to stop sewer overflows that regularly occurred during rainstorms. Proctor Creek, served by combined sewer systems, was one of the worst examples of how these failing models polluted waterways.
The second consent decree deals with sanitary sewer systems in which just raw sewage is sent to a treatment center. City officials were granted a 13-year extension to complete this work by 2027 after federal officials agreed the cost of improvements placed an undue burden on Atlanta ratepayers, who were already paying some of the highest water rates in the country.
Watershed officials report 95 percent to 98 percent of the work required under the second decree is completed. Since the work began, sewage spills have dropped by 70 percent since 2000.
Source: The Atlanta Department of Watershed Management