By John Schaffner

“If I have not dug up your street, I will be there shortly,” Rob Hunter, commissioner of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management, told those attending the Feb. 28 breakfast meeting of the Buckhead Business Association (BBA).

Hunter was referring the extensive amount of water and sewer pipe repair and replacement work his department has been doing in Buckhead—going street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood, digging up the streets.

“We are paving some streets now that all the pipes are done,” he explained. “Imagine the street you live on. My people are coming down one side of the street digging a trench all the way down the road replacing a sewer pipe. On the other side of the street we’re digging another trench and replacing the water pipe. That is not happening quickly and conveniently for the neighborhood,” Hunter continued.

He said his department took the option where that is occurring to mill the street down, not just paving over it. “So, for those neighborhoods, when they go through what is an exceptionally difficult period of construction, they are going to have better water pressure, better sewer and better streets,” he added.

The main projects the department is involved with basically involve a three-strep process: Evaluating the sewers, rehabilitation and relief projects. He said the evaluation process has basically been completed in Buckhead and the rehabilitation is presently underway.

“We just completed evaluation of 1,000 miles of sewers,” Hunter reported. “We repaired about 242 miles or about 40 percent” of the repairs needed.

In terms of major construction projects, the West Area Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) tunnel boring has been completed and the contractors are now doing the lining. It is due to be completed at the end of next year, following the city being granted a one-year extension of its court-mandated deadline. That will be the end of most of the large projects, he said.

He declared the projects are on budget and on schedule.

Hunter thanked the audience for voting to continue the one-cent Municipal Option Sales Tax for the sewer projects. He said that translates into $120 million. “If we did not pass MOST, we would have had to raise the rates by about 48 percent.”

The city has to make up the revenues, because it is under court orders to complete the work .

He said the department has lost from the drought about $33 million this year.

Hunter announced that an ordinance has been submitted to City Council that would apply a temporary drought surcharge that would increase water and sewer rates by 15 percent when the area is in a stage 4 drought situation. There would be a three-tiered rate based on the amount of water used.

He said that for the present budget negotiations, he is proposing to come in with a four-year rate package to work along with MOST.

According to Hunter, there is an impression going around that the drought seems to be abating. “That is not the case. We have had virtually no rain.” He reported that to the date of his talk, the area was two inches below normal for the year. “Last year, Lake Lanier was about four feet below full pool. This year we are about 18 feet below full pool.”

“We are not in danger of running out of water,” Hunter stated. But he said it is important to conserve water and manage our water resources. He said we will not run out of water if we put controls in place.

He said the city is allowing swimming pools to be open this summer, but is not relaxing other water restrictions.