Case Number # 2537
In Rochelle, Georgia, a group of African-American citizens is suing their city government for discharging the city’s raw sewage onto their properties.
White residents of Rochelle live on the south side of the city’s railroad track. African-Americans live on the other side. The city has repaired and updated its sewage pipes on the south (white) side of the tracks but not on the African-American side. As a result, untreated sewage backs up and overflows into the streets and the yards of residents on the north side of the tracks.
On behalf of those residents, Earthjustice notified the city on May 2, 2013, that if problems are not fixed in 60 days, it will file suit under the Clean Water Act to stop the unpermitted discharges of raw sewage from manholes, broken pipes and a ditch. The suit would also prevent the city from bypassing its sewer system and endangering public health by forcing citizens to release sewage into their yards in order to keep it out of their homes. These discharges and bypasses are violations of the Clean Water Act.
The city’s sewage conveyance pipes date back to the 1940’s. Sewage backs up in underground pipes during heavy rains, making it flow up into African-Americans’ houses through bathtub and shower drains. To keep the sewage out of their houses during heavy rains, residents remove plugs from sewage pipes to make the sewage pour into their yards instead of their houses.
The residents have to shovel and bury fecal matter, toilet paper and other noxious debris left in their yards after sewage overflows, which have taken place three or four times a year for decades. Sewage also overflows from manholes and broken pipes into a ditch along the north side of Rochelle and out into Mill Creek, which eventually flows to the Suwannee River.
The sewage from manholes and broken pipes flows into the streets and to the ditch along the north side of town, which discharges to Mill Creek. This is a clear violation of the Clean Water Act and the city’s permit. Once a favored fishing stream used by people in the neighborhood, Mill Creek is now so foul it is no longer used at all.