The city of Sandy Springs is at a standstill with the city of Atlanta Watershed Department regarding the rates that Sandy Springs residents pay for water.

“We are tied in court on this issue right now,” Sandy Springs City Manager John McDonough said at an April 13 meeting for homeowner association presidents. “Until we can get some relief through court, we do not have the ability to challenge the rates and the status quo.”

Sandy Springs officials last summer began looking for options to reduce water rates. Residents pay a 21 percent surcharge for Atlanta water.

“We pay a penalty, an out-of-the-city premium, here in Sandy Springs,” said McDonough, adding Atlanta’s water rates are some of the highest in the country. “They have built in a number of double digit increases for the foreseeable future, so those rates are going to continue to climb to meet the requirements of their consent decree.”

McDonough said the city paid for a study last year that devised 15 options for Sandy Springs City Council to consider. City officials narrowed the choices to three.

About that time, McDonough said, Atlanta officials informed U.S. District Judge Thomas Thrash of Sandy Springs’s actions. They said losing Sandy Springs’ water revenue would harm Atlanta’s ability to meet requirements Thrash had imposed on Atlanta when he ruled more than a decade ago that Atlanta was in violation of the Clean Water Act. He imposed a court-mandated overhaul of Atlanta’s water and sewer system through two consent decrees.

“Judge Thrash, on very little notice, called us into his court room,” McDonough said. “I think there were 10 tables, and we were at the one all the way in the back.”

After a brief hearing, Thrash ruled against Sandy Springs. That decision froze Sandy Springs’ ability to challenge water rates in state court, McDonough said.

The city is currently appealing Thrash’s decision.

“The fact of the matter is we don’t have an agreement today with the city of Atlanta for water,” McDonough said. “It’s just always because it’s been that way, and we don’t have a viable option at this point in time.”

—Amy Wenk