Atlanta mayor pledges to aid businesses harmed by water outages as he looks to upgrade system

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens says he will support a plan to spend $5 million reimbursing businesses for losses during water outages in the city in recent days

Jeff Amy
Wednesday 05 June 2024 22:55 BST

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Louise Thomas

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Atlanta’s mayor on Wednesday pledged support of a plan to spend $5 million to reimbursing businesses for losses during water outages in the city since Friday, as he promised an assessment of the city’s infrastructure and to deploy monitors to detect leaking pipes.

Mayor Andre Dickens made the announcements a day after workers finished repairs on a ruptured water main. Officials said they had restored water flow and normal pressure to customers after troubles began Friday. Downtown Atlanta and nearby neighborhoods will remain under an order to boil water before drinking until sampling shows the water is safe, a period likely to last until Thursday.

“We know this disruption wasn’t easy for you and we appreciate your patience and your understanding throughout this journey that we’ve been on,” Dickens said. “We are happy to be on the other side of it.”

Atlanta’s water outages are the latest failures as cities across the country shore up faltering infrastructure. A 2022 crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, which has a long-troubled water system, left many residents without safe running water for weeks. Other cities including Flint, Michigan, have also struggled to supply residents with safe drinking water.

The first-term Democratic mayor has been under fire for Atlanta's response to the leaks, especially because Dickens left town after the first major leak began to travel to Memphis, Tennessee, where he held a fundraiser for his 2025 reelection campaign and met with that city's leaders to discuss crime and other issues. Dickens' administration said it wasn't clear that the first leak west of downtown would create a major disruption when he proceeded with the trip. A second major leak in the city's Midtown neighborhood began later Friday.

The first leak was fixed on Saturday, but the second leak kept gushing into city streets until Monday.

The city will begin installing devices at valves that can electronically detect and report leaks, Department of Watershed Management Commissioner Al Wiggins Jr. said. He said the pilot program was already planned before the leaks. Wiggins also said city will step up inspections and seek to repair some other valves that aren't working correctly.

Dickens said that would be part of a broader effort to examine the city's water system, including assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a panel he announced to be headed by former Mayor Shirley Franklin and Metro Atlanta Chamber CEO Katie Kirkpatrick. He said he would also consider reordering the city's capital improvement plans to prioritize water system upgrades.

The mayor said he would seek more federal funding, but warned the work could be very costly.

“I want us to be the example of solving it — all of it. And that’s going to be a number that’s in the B — billions. It’s not going to be a small number,” Dickens said. “But I think that that will give our residents more confidence.”

Atlanta voters have supported improvements. Last month, they approved continuing a 1-cent sales tax to pay for water and sewer improvements.

Atlanta once dumped untreated sewage into creeks and the Chattahoochee River until ordered to stop by a federal court. It has since spent billions to upgrade its aging sewer and water systems, even drilling a tunnel through 5 miles (8 kilometers) of rock to store more than 30 days of water.

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