SSO Statement from GM Ray Hardin
Decatur Utilities management has been made aware of a social media post and subsequent press conference statements made by Mayor Tab Bowling regarding a perceived lack of communication regarding Sanitary Sewer Overflows (SSOs) and DU’s ongoing plans to address them. It is unfortunate that Mayor Bowling has elected to communicate in such an unprofessional and misleading manner.
As we do with each incoming city administration, in January of 2017 we invited Mayor Bowling and City Council members to an overview of our operations, which also highlighted our biggest challenges and issues. The exact issues Mayor Bowling questions in his post were addressed with him at that meeting and then again on January 14, 2020.
At this most recent meeting, we emphasized the significant progress made in the 10-year wastewater system improvement plan, which was formalized in 2013 to address SSOs. Phase I of that plan called for significant lift station replacement and pipeline upgrades to add capacity in areas with the highest concentration of SSOs at that time; Phase II, which began in 2019, calls for an increased level of collection system rehabilitation.
The DU board and Decatur City Council have authorized expenditures in excess of $60 million dollars over the past 10 years to address this issue. We have seen a significant reduction in SSOs in basins where this rehabilitation work was concentrated and where new lift stations were installed based on the previous engineering study.
Due to historic amounts of rainfall in recent months, other sewer systems in the state – including many of our neighboring utility systems – are struggling with this issue. Despite this information being publicly available on the ADEM website, the local media has singled out DU in its coverage.
To characterize DU and its leadership as unresponsive is unfair. This issue has been a priority for more than a decade now – and we will continue to address it. We have been transparent with the Mayor, the council and the media. While the current ongoing engineering study may prompt an acceleration of rehabilitation efforts in certain areas, it will still not be an overnight fix.
This issue should not be leveraged for political capital by the Mayor or anyone else on the City Council. DU has acknowledged the issue and residents of Decatur should know we will take the steps needed – and expend the funds necessary – to continue working toward reducing and eliminating future SSOs. However, these improvements are funded through DU wastewater rates – not tax dollars – so we must also be mindful of keeping rates
affordable and competitive.
Again, this is not an overnight fix and will take time.
Ray Hardin, General Manager