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Polluted water may be cheap, but the taint runs deep

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Polluted water may be cheap, but the taint runs deep

Keep it Clean: Elijah Dumitrescu rows downriver.

Keep it Clean: Elijah Dumitrescu rows downriver.

Keep it Clean: Elijah Dumitrescu rows downriver.

Keep it Clean: Elijah Dumitrescu rows downriver.

The Southerner

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BY ELIJAH DUMITRESCU
 
There has been a crackdown in enforcement of the clean water act, which I think is completely reasonable and overdue. While canoeing with Georgia Interfaith Power and Light, we traveled on the South River. The South River starts in the city of Atlanta. South of the city it joins with the Ocmulgee River and passes Macon. The people of Macon take their drinking water out of the South River and the Ocmulgee. After Macon, the Ocmulgee flows into the Altamaha and out to the ocean on the coast of Georgia.
 
The South River has gotten more and more polluted. In the 70’s and 80’s, waste was dumped directly into the river by private citizens and industries. Even now, when there are big rain storms, the rain water flows into the sewers to join with raw sewage. Older sewage treatment plants can’t handle all of the water so raw untreate

Keep it Clean: Elijah Dumitrescu rows downriver.

d sewage is dumped into the South River. Just think about the people of Macon, downstream from Atlanta. They use the water we are dumping into for drinking.
 
It is important to understand that not all actions are reversible. Some damage cannot be undone. Even when damage cannot be reversed we can still try to stop it at the source. The source of these problems are the sewers- more accurately, the city. Accessing the sewer system is dirty, expensive, and hard, and they don’t want to do it.
 
In 1978, after more than 15 years of pollution from badly working sewage treatment plants, citizens sued DeKalb County to force them to clean up the pollution it was dumping into the river. In 1999 the problems continued, and downstream citizens in Rockdale County asked the state of Georgia to get involved. The county didn’t listen to citizens about their concerns, so the people had to get the state involved. The state declared almost the whole length of the South River to be “extremely polluted.” In 1999, citizens working to clean up the South River pushed Atlanta and DeKalb County to deal with the pollution. There was almost no progress, and in 2006 Georgia fined DeKalb County $50,000 for dumping over 10 million gallons of raw sewage into a tributary of the South River. In 2008, DeKalb County had another 198 raw sewage spills into the river. In 2010 the EPA sued DeKalb County to force them to clean up the river, but DeKalb continued to have raw sewage spills. There were over 1,000 of them between 2006 and 2011. From January 10, 2012 to October 2012, there were more than 1.6 million gallons of raw sewage dumped into the South River. Have we really come to a state of mind where we are okay with Mother Nature dying because it cheaper than fixing a problem we caused? DeKalb spilled again and again, causing gallons to pour into water people use for sanitation and drinking.
 
In December 2010 DeKalb County entered into Consent Decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Many people say the Consent Decree is too focused on details(most of the people saying this are on the side supporting the dumping of raw sewage into the river), but the problem is that the county won’t do anything that is not specifically written in the law. This means that the Consent Decree has to focus down to the pipe size, or nothing will be done. If they don’t focus down to the pipe size, the country could have the whole system malfunction because some pipes are too small.
 
Another issue is DeKalb has had more than 1,000 spills since 2006, and 700 of these have been because of fat, oil, and grease. The Consent Decree does not require that the County has to do anything to stop the serious problems caused by having these things in the sewer system. The problem is that people pour the fats, oils, and greases from their food down their drains. These all harden and clog up the pipes. This means usually three things: broken pipes, overflow, and always trouble. DeKalb County has not made a plan to address the problems with fat, oil, and grease.
 
The EPA has made rules stating there can only be four sewer runoffs in a year. No matter how many times it rains, how much or how little untreated outflow occurs it is still counted as runoffs. Four untreated Sewage Dumping events a year can still do a huge amount of damage, especially when you consider that the river is a drinking supply for people in cities downstream from Atlanta. Limiting raw sewage flows to four events a year may make industries and County Governments complain, but when our Federal and State government doesn’t step in to protect the environment, you can see what happens by how polluted the South River was. Before the State and the Federal Government stepped in, more than 1,000 spills happened during six years when it was already illegal to dump pollution into the river. Just passing a law isn’t enough to clean up a river though. The EPA has to enforce the law with steep consequences to make the pollution stop. I personally don’t see the problem with this. In fact, I thank the EPA. They are cleaning up potable water, water I have paddled in and would love to paddle in again.
 
Sometimes you need to step back from the little picture and try to see the consequence of your actions. The times of leaving an inheritance of problems to younger generations is over. We need to act now and fight to stop pollution. When I was on the river I saw old tires buried in the sand and a child’s electric car half submerged in the water. It made it real. No longer to me was the pollution words or numbers on a website or in a book. It was sadly very real and too tangible for my liking. Even with the pollution it was a good paddle, but the possibility of the South River clean and restored is awe-inspiring.
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Polluted water may be cheap, but the taint runs deep