North American Society for Trenchless Technology (NASTT)
New Orleans, Louisiana
March 22-24, 2004
ATLANTA’S CREATIVE APPROACH TO DEVELOP WORLD-CLASS
BURIED INFRASTRUCTURE SYSTEMS
Tom Iseley1, John Griffin1, Troy Norris1, and Ronald Thompson2
Dept. of Watershed Management, City of Atlanta, Buried Asset Management Institute, Atlanta, GA
Malcolm Pirnie, Inc., Birmingham, AL
ABSTRACT: The article Atlanta eager to develop world-class sewer system authored by Mayor
Shirley Franklin appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on July 15, 2002. It states:
“People worldwide dream of living in a community with clean water, plentiful jobs and affordable housing.
Over the next 12 years, Atlanta will make its largest investment ever in such a dream. To assure high
water quality and long-term economic stability for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, we are
embarking on a $3 billion sewer improvement program. Most of this investment is required under a
federal court order to eliminate sewer spills and properly treat waste water. Though the financial burden
of this program is daunting, it is our opportunity to develop a world-class sewer system. This must be
accomplished while keeping water and sewer rates affordable for all. The city’s plan is not easy, and it will
require your support.”
To accomplish the goal of developing a world-class sewer system, Mayor Franklin implemented Clean
Water Atlanta (CWA). The CWA program can be characterized as a comprehensive asset management
program. Other countries have invested through institutes/firms to develop asset management programs,
models and initiatives to better prepare utility systems for the renewal of their country’s deteriorating
infrastructure. Such a comprehensive commitment/investment has not been made in the USA. It is
needed. Atlanta is taking a giant step with the establishment of BAMI (Buried Asset Management
Institute) to ensure that a comprehensive program is developed and implement.
This paper will describe the background, development process, organizational structure, funding sources,
accomplishments, lessons learned, etc. of BAMI and how such an organization is providing assistance in
accomplishing the Atlanta dream.
INTRODUCTION : Immediately after being elected in 2001, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin took a good
look at Atlanta’s sewer system and determined that she was dealing with a serious situation. She learned
that the combined sewer system that was constructed in the 1880’s and early 1900’s no longer met water
quality standards and must be fixed by 2007. Mayor Franklin also learned that the remaining 85 percent
of the sewer system was leaking and in some instances overflowing during certain rainstorms. Mayor
Franklin sized-up this issue, proudly dubbed herself the “Sewer Mayor” and set out to change things,
pledging that if she receives the proper support, in about 10-years Atlanta will have water systems that
are classified as “Best-in-Class”.
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CONSENT DECREES : Atlanta failed to begin construction of screening and chlorination facilities at
several of its combined sewer outfalls and improvements to its wastewater treatment facilities that would
reduce effluent phosphorus discharge levels to state law requirements in the early 1990’s. The failure to
complete the projects was due to a small group of citizens protesting the proposed construction of a
screen and treat combined sewer overflow facility in a City park and the construction of a tunnel that
would have been constructed beneath several neighborhoods. The protests stopped the projects. The
projects had to be redesigned. A state Senator, representing citizens downstream of Atlanta, authored
legislation that resulted in the City paying approximately $20 million in fines to the Georgia State Treasury
for failing to meet the required schedules to complete these projects.
The facilities were redesigned and construction commenced but not before the Upper Chattahoochee
Riverkeeper, a local environmental organization dedicated to the preservation of the Chattahoochee
River, filed suit in federal court in 1995 charging Atlanta with violation of the Clean Water Act. The initial
suit was aimed at the 15 percent of Atlanta’s sewer system that is combined and generally located in the
center of the City. The suit claimed that the old combined system was harming the Chattahoochee River
and its tributaries located inside the City. The suit led to Atlanta entering into a Federal Consent Decree in
1998 with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Georgia Department of
Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division (Ga. EPD). The consent decree required Atlanta to
complete improvements to its Combined Sewer System by 2007 and set intermediate milestones for
specific remedial improvements. In 1999 the initial consent decree was amended to include mandated
improvements to the wastewater collection system and treatment facilities. The amended consent decree
is known as the First Amended Consent Decree and all improvements determined necessary under this
document must be completed by 2014. The First Amended Consent Decree also includes intermediate
milestones and the requirement to define and implement Capacity, Management, Operations and
Maintenance (CMOM’s) programs.
Atlanta is also required to complete an improvement plan that will eliminate sanitary sewer overflows, the
SSO program. This program requires that the entire 2100-mile sewer system be evaluated and improved
by 2014. The evaluation process is being implemented over about a five-year period that began in 2002
and is called the sewer system evaluation study (SSES). Information learned through the SSES will be
used to guide rehabilitative, repair and replacement/upgrade decisions. That was the situation that
greeted Mayor Franklin when she took office.
Between 1990 and now, Atlanta has spent approximately $600 million on rehabilitation and upgrades to
its sewer system.
Early in her first year Mayor Franklin had to also settle a continuing debate over the method that should
be used to bring Atlanta’s combined sewers into compliance with the Clean Water Act. Although the City
had employed engineers and scientist that are experts on the subject to develop plans to solve the
problem, a small group of Citizens continued to stall progress by insisting that the issue would be better
addressed by separating all of the combined sewers, a process that would cost millions more. To settle
the conflict, Mayor Franklin turned to one of America’s leading institutions of higher learning in the fields
of engineering and science, The Georgia Institute of Technology. Georgia Tech’s President, Dr. Wayne
Clough, Ph.D., P.E. was selected to head a distinguished panel of wastewater and environmental
professionals from across America to review the work that had been done and make recommendations
for moving forward with the best possible solution, from a engineering, environmental and scientific
The panel made its recommendations. The recommendations were reviewed and accepted. The final
plan includes a solution that will separate the sewers where it is economically feasible. Tunnels will be
constructed to provide storage that will reduce the number of combined sewer overflows to Atlanta’s
streams from more than 300 per year to approximately 16. The combined sewage that is captured and
stored inside the tunnels, will be screened, chlorinated, de-chlorinated and then discharged into the
receiving stream. This part of Atlanta’s program is estimated to cost approximately $1 Billion.
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COMMITMENT AND VISION : After being immersed in water and wastewater issues most of her initial
days in office, Mayor Franklin concluded that placing all water related activities in one department was the
appropriate structure to effectively bring about the needed improvements to the City’s drinking water,
storm water and wastewater infrastructure. Mayor Franklin announced the formation of Clean Water
Atlanta on October 16, 2002. Clean Water Atlanta is the City’s aggressive program for providing clean
drinking water for all residents and clean wastewater for all of its downstream neighbors. Clean Water
Atlanta, is the overarching concept that will lead the way towards Franklin’s vision of Atlanta’s water and
sewer systems as “world-class,” and provides the foundation for the city’s ability to meet nine specific
• Support for Atlanta in its mission of providing safe drinking water for residents and clean
wastewater for purposes of the environment and the city’s downstream neighbors;
• Maintenance of a healthy and safe environment for the city’s citizens and neighbors;
• Protection of the Southeast’s major water resource;
• Improvement of water quality in the South River, Intrenchment Creek and other streams that pass
through the city;
• Effective achievement of Consent Decree and regulatory mandates;
• Creation of public confidence in the city’s water and wastewater systems;
• Provision of innovative capital funding to minimize the impact of the projects on ratepayers;
• Promotion of water conservation and reuse; and
• Maintenance of “smart growth” provisions vital to the region’s economic prosperity.
The mayor also identified five major points of commitment that would allow the city to accomplish the
Clean Water Atlanta goals. She vowed that the city would:
• Ensure professional management of its Consent Decree projects;
• Reduce flooding and pollution caused by storm water;
• Eliminate sanitary sewer spills;
• Monitor the water quality of every major stream; and
• Implement a combined sewer overflow solution that achieves high water quality at a low cost
within the Consent Decree deadlines.
The program is estimated to cost some $3.8 billion.
In an article that appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on July 15, 2002, she wrote “People
worldwide dream of living in a community with clean water, plentiful jobs and affordable housing. Over the
next 12 years, Atlanta will make its largest investment ever in such a dream. To assure high quality water
and long-term economic stability for ourselves, our children and grandchildren, we are embarking on a
$3B sewer improvement program.” She went on to state that even though most of this investment is
required by a federal court order that it is an opportunity to develop a world-class sewer system. This
established the future direction for Atlanta. Her vision to move Atlanta’s water program being one of our
nation’s worst beyond compliance to becoming “First-in-Class” has become a driving force. Her approach
was made clear in a speech on October 16, 2002 when she stated:
• When it comes to sewers and clean water, I’m not interested in delay. We’ve already had too
much delay in Atlanta.
• When it comes to sewers and clean water, I’m not interested in short term solutions. We’ve
already had too many band-aids in Atlanta.
• When it comes to sewers and clean water, I’m not interested in easy answers. We’ve avoided the
tough decisions for too long in Atlanta.
The Clean Water Atlanta program, one of her first major initiatives, was her response.
DEPARTMENT OF WATERSHED MANAGEMENT : The Department of Watershed Management was
also created in 2002 to carryout the mission of steward of Atlanta’s watershed, a mission that actually
reaches far beyond the City’s corporate boundaries, affecting waterways that flow into the Atlantic Ocean
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and the Gulf of Mexico. Mayor Franklin tapped former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional
Director Jack Ravan to head the new department and gave him a broad mandate to create a world-class
water and sewer infrastructure. Ravan was confirmed by the Atlanta City Council as Commissioner of the
Department of Watershed Management in September of 2002. Commissioner Ravan has organized the
Department of Watershed Management
In his first year, Commissioner Ravan has been extremely busy. In 1998 Atlanta made the decision to
privatize the management of its drinking water system. Following careful review of the contract and the
service provided, Mayor Franklin determined that it would be in the best interest of Atlanta’s citizens to
bring the management of the system back under City of Atlanta management and the contract with United
Water Services was terminated in April 2003. Commissioner Ravan managed the conversion back to in-
house management. He also spent much of his time and energy establishing the blue print for the new
Department of Watershed Management. The department’s structure and human resource needs were
presented to the City Council in July and approved. The Commissioner is now focusing on putting the
finishing touches on the process by putting all needed personnel in place.
ATLANTA’S CHALLENGE : The city is struggling mightily to pull together the approximately $3 billion it
will need for full consent decree compliance. Franklin and Ravan have worked feverishly – and somewhat
successfully – to convince state and federal legislators that funding help is critical to Atlanta’s success.
This need for federal assistance is crucial when one considers Atlanta’s economic statistics.
According to the Financial Capability Assessment Report submitted by the City to EPA in February 2002,
25% of Atlanta's households in 2000 had annual incomes of $15,374 compared to the national poverty
level income of $13,860. Current water and wastewater bills are approximately $62.00 per month for a 10
ccf user. The wastewater program requirements, absent substantial external support, could
increase these bills by as much as 300% over the course of program implementation. For that same 10
ccf user, this could increase bills by approximately$1600 per year, up from $744 per year to over $2,300.
These bill impacts will increase the claim of water and wastewater costs on disposable income of low-
income users from over 2% -- already deemed to be a 'high burden by EPA -- to over 8% of disposable
income. For a family already struggling financially, the effect of the program will be devastating. Receiving
federal funds to assist Atlanta with the needed improvements will make the overall program a much
lighter burden on those in this community who are least able to afford it.
BURIED ASSET MANAGEMENT INSTITUTE (BAMI) : Commissioner Ravan is a veteran of the
environmental community. He worked for several years as the United States Environmental Protection
Agency’s regional administrator for the southeastern United States, Region 4. The Commissioner
understands consent decrees and why they occur. During his tenure at the helm of the Clean Water
Atlanta program he has asked the question; what can be done insure that no more consent decrees occur
after this one. He posed this question to two of his key advisors, Troy Norris, Ph.D. and Tom Iseley,
Ph.D., P.E. After careful consideration, they recommended that properly managing the City’s buried
assets is the best way to avoid such a predicament in the future. This led to the establishment of
Atlanta’s Buried Asset Management Institute.
The Buried Asset Management Institute will be established as a non-profit organization with the
expressed mission of assisting the Department of Watershed Management in its efforts to provide the
citizens and ratepayers with the best quality service at the lowest possible cost. Some of BAMI’s initial
objectives are as follows:
1. Assist the City of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management in identifying and applying
technology that allows services to be upgraded and maintained at the lowest possible cost to the
2. Assist the City of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management in developing and
maintaining drinking (potable) water, storm water and wastewater services and systems that are
the best in North America by 2012
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3. Assist the City of Atlanta’s Department of Watershed Management in identifying and procuring
raw water supply in sufficient quantities to sustain Atlanta and our neighboring communities
throughout this century and beyond (Drinking Water Solutions for a Century)
4. Develop and sustain business relationships with municipalities, especially rural communities,
state and federal agencies and national and international organizations that lead to the
procurement of resources that assist the City of Atlanta in improving and sustaining its
watershed management obligations to all of its constituents. Knowledge that is gained from
Atlanta’s watershed programs will be shared with our business partners.
5. Encourage and assist Colleges and Universities to develop Bachelor of Science, Master of
Science and Doctorial degrees that prepare professionals specifically for the drinking water,
storm water and wastewater industry.
6. Work with Colleges, Universities and other Research Institutions to establish and complete
research efforts that result in the development of improved and cost effective buried asset
management tools that may be implemented in Atlanta’s watershed systems
7. Provide direction, assistance and overview in Atlanta’s GASB 34 program.
The establishment of BAMI is one of the clearest indications of the mayor’s commitment and vision. The
group, set up as a non-profit organization, has as its mission the development of a world-class buried
asset management model that will:
• document the current management process;
• determine the parameters and characteristics for a future model;
• determine what technology exists to permit development and use of the model;
• determine the necessary research and development necessary for development and
implementation of the model; and
• development of a continuous improvement process.
To accomplish that mission, BAMI will work with owners of buried assets and financial institutions;
industry representatives, including consultants, contractors, manufacturers and suppliers; and research
organizations. The organization has identified four major thrust areas: 1. Water resources, 2.
underground infrastructure, 3. Management and finance, and 4. outreach. It also has established six
working committees to focus on organization, water resources, underground infrastructure, management
and finance, outreach and a pilot project program.
BAMI’s ROLE: Making a program as ambitious as Clean Water Atlanta work will require thinking
“outside the box,” and BAMI is a critical part of that innovative thinking. Built on the principal of national
and international asset management programs, BAMI’s immediate effect will be felt as the city struggles
to replace and rehabilitate its antiquated water and wastewater infrastructure.
According to BAMI Executive Director John Griffin, BAMI’s primary objective, at least in the near future, is
to put in place processes that will allow the city to sustain and enhance improvements to its water
systems. “We’ll put programs in place that allow us to refurbish the system where we can and rebuild
when necessary,” he says. “We are creating procedures that allow us to constantly monitor the conditions
of our water assets, and programmatically make improvements in a proactive rather than reactive mode.”
BAMI has already form alliances with the Georgia Rural Water Association and the National Conferences
of Black Mayors.
Over the long haul, BAMI will help the city improve its asset management technology and its employee
expertise, while creating benchmarks to sustain improvements.
The organization also intends to lead the city effort to overhaul its specifications system, a process that
will introduce new, cost saving products and procedures where applicable.
Finally, because water supply issues, not yet critical, are sure to dominate the rapidly expanding
metropolitan Atlanta area’s future, BAMI will work with its partners to research potential water sources.
The group has cooperative agreements with numerous trade organizations and research facilities, such
as the North American Society for Trenchless Technology, the National Utility Contractors Association,
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the Centre for Advancement of TT at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Arizona State, Purdue and
“BAMI will help give us the tools we will need as we strive to create the water and wastewater systems
that Atlantans deserve,” Ravan said. We believe that Clean Water Atlanta is the single most
comprehensive water program in America today. BAMI will research and recommend services to this
program that help achieve and sustain Mayor Franklin’s vision of creating a “Best in Class” watershed
infrastructure for Atlanta. It also will ensure that Franklin’s legacy as the “Sewer Mayor” is one that the city
will point to proudly decades into the future.
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