Following her election, Mayor Franklin made compliance with the federal consent decrees a top priority. She created a Department of Watershed Management to pull drinking water, wastewater collection and treatment, and stormwater management under one umbrella for the first time in the city’s history.
Mayor Franklin also formed the Clean Water Atlanta Advisory Panel – chaired by former Georgia Tech President Wayne Clough and comprised of nationally renowned water and wastewater experts – to sort through the options of how to repair the city’s watershed management infrastructure.
In effect, Mayor Franklin took the challenge of complying with the two federal consent decrees as an opportunity to completely overhaul the city’s outdated water and sewer infrastructure.
(T)he Clean Water Atlanta Plan was an expensive project. Finding a source of funding for the capital improvements was particularly challenging. The plan called for $3.9 billion in improvements to the city’s water and sewer systems, but no source of revenues was available to finance them. With little state or federal funding available to support the project, Mayor Franklin was forced to propose large water and sewer rate increases. She also successfully lobbied the state of Georgia for the right of the city to enact a penny sales tax to fund the capital program, which generates over $100 million a year. In addition, the state of Georgia pledged $500 million in low interest loans.
Though Atlanta now has some of the highest water and sewer rates in the country, the program has been successful in drastically reducing the city’s environmental impact, while also improving water quality in and around the Atlanta region. Atlanta has already met the 2008 deadlines associated with its CSOs, and is well on its way to meeting the deadlines associated with its SSOs, while also establishing administrative mechanisms for identifying, repairing and replacing decaying sewer pipes.
-excerpts from Atlanta Case Study Project: Watershed Management, 2010
by Harvey K. Newman, Professor and Chair, and Tim N. ToddDepartment of Public Management and Policy, Andrew Young School of Policy Studies