On its surface, Eden is much like any other small city in North Carolina, friendly, laid back and reeling from the loss of textile and manufacturing industries.
It’s below the surface where the real problems lurk.
A labyrinth of sewer lines stretching about 180 miles is so old, deteriorated and poorly designed that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 slapped Eden with an administrative consent order to fix its entire sewer system. That will cost the cash-strapped city, near the Virginia border in western North Carolina, more than $33 million.
Eden is now the only city, county or town in North Carolina under an EPA order to stop all sanitary sewer overflows — a wastewater treatment system’s unintended release of untreated sewage, commonly the result of broken pipes, poor design, extremely heavy rains or blockage caused by grease or debris.
But this city of about 15,000 people is far from alone. Sewer systems throughout the state are crumbling, largely because of age, deferred maintenance and a lack of money to make repairs or lay new sewer lines.