South River named among America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Sewage pollution threatens public health, perpetuates injustice

April 13, 2021

Contacts:  

Ben Emanuel, American Rivers, 706-340-8868, bemanuel@americanrivers.org
Jackie Echols, South River Watershed Alliance, 404-285-3756, southriverwatershedalliance@gmail.com 
Revonda Cosby, Arabia Mountain Heritage Area Alliance, 404-561-3323, revonda@arabiaalliance.org  
Marlena Reed, The Nature Conservancy, 404-253-7246, marlena.reed@tnc.org 
Brionte´ McCorkle, Georgia Conservation Voters, 404-333-8784, brionte@gcvoters.org 
Jason Dozier, Intrenchment Creek Community Stewardship Council, 404-913-6419, jasondozier@gmail.com
Ricky Leroux, Sierra Club Georgia Chapter, 404-607-1262, X234, ricky.leroux@sierraclub.org  
Fletcher Sams, Altamaha Riverkeeper, 404-985-9606, fletcher@altamahariverkeeper.org

Washington, D.C. – American Rivers today named the South River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2021, citing the egregious threat that ongoing sewage pollution poses to clean water and public health. American Rivers and its partners called on the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to address this longstanding injustice.

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to save rivers needing urgent action,” said Ben Emanuel with American Rivers. “The sewage pollution in the South River has gone on too long. EPA and the Department of Justice should enforce clean water standards now to safeguard public health in south DeKalb County communities.”

DeKalb County’s failure to maintain and upgrade its sewage system causes sewage to repeatedly overflow from pipes and spill into the South River, before reaching treatment facilities. The EPA and the county negotiated a consent decree to upgrade the sewer system to stop pollution, but after more than a decade of little to no action, the county’s deadline is being extended. The plan leaves out too many communities – which are predominantly Black. Sewage pollution poses a public health threat, fouls homes and neighborhoods and harms property values. The county’s poor record in fixing the problem and the lenience from state and federal authorities only perpetuate this longstanding environmental injustice for south DeKalb neighborhoods and downstream communities.

Jackie Echols, Board President of South River Watershed Alliance, is at the forefront of this issue. “It has taken EPA many decades to take note of the environmental injustice that continues to take place in south DeKalb County in real time. Before us right now is a once in a lifetime opportunity to fix an urgent problem, but only if EPA and DOJ step up,” she states.

It is the responsibility of the EPA to negotiate and enforce actions that achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act for all, regardless of race, socio-economic status or geography. American Rivers and its partners called on the EPA and the DOJ to take all necessary actions to restore Clean Water Act protections to the South River and the entire impacted community.

“Access to clean, unpolluted water should not be considered a privilege in our country,” said Georgia Conservation Voters Executive Director Brionte´ McCorkle. “Until we address the sewage pollution crisis at the South River, we cannot bring true equity and justice to all of our communities in America, especially the Black, poor and other minority communities that have often been at the forefront of environmental injustice and racism.”

“Few would argue that the South River’s ongoing struggle with pollution isn’t due to its urban roots nor the social/economic makeup of communities that stand to benefit most from a cleaner healthier river. Environmental injustice is the river’s legacy,” said Eric Grant, local river user. “I am doing my part to help ensure that pollution isn’t a major part of its future. Achieving justice for the river can be as simple as using it for recreation. Either we use it, or we will lose it.”

Flowing through the ancestral lands of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation from just north of Hartsfield Jackson International Airport through Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area into Jackson Lake at the head of the Ocmulgee River, the South River has struggled for decades with extreme environmental impacts concentrated in the two most densely populated municipalities in metropolitan Atlanta– the City of Atlanta and DeKalb County. Outside of the city, the South River has become an important source of water recreation where none previously existed. Only twenty minutes from downtown Atlanta, the river attracts canoeists and kayakers from throughout the metro area.

The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

Other rivers in the region listed as most endangered in recent years include the Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys River (2020) and Ocklawaha River (2020).

AMERICA’S MOST ENDANGERED RIVERS® OF 2021

#1: Snake River (ID, WA, OR)
Threat: Four federal dams on the lower Snake River

#2: Lower Missouri River (MO, IA, NE, KS)
Threat: Outdated river management

#3: Boundary Waters (MN)
Threat: Sulfide-ore copper mining

#4: South River (GA)
Threat: Pollution due to lax enforcement

#5: Pecos River (NM)
Threat: Pollution from proposed hardrock mining

#6: Tar Creek (OK)
Threat: Pollution from Tar Creek Superfund Site

#7: McCloud River (CA)
Threat: Raising of Shasta Dam

#8: Ipswich River (MA)
Threat: Excessive water withdrawals

#9: Raccoon River (IA)
Threat: Pollution from industrial agriculture and factory farming

#10: Turkey Creek (MS)
Threat: Two major developments