Newton County moving ahead with $23 million in water system upgrades

COVINGTON — Newton County commissioners on Thursday took the first step forward on a lengthy list of needed upgrades to the county’s drinking water system. Commissioners voted unanimously to seek $23.4 million in funding for a wide array of projects designed to repair or replace aging or inadequate infrastructure and increase water treatment capacity.

District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson was absent from the meeting.

Commissioners agreed to pursue funding for the projects through the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, a federally funded loan program. Marty Boyd, engineer with Carter & Sloope Inc., which conducted an assessment of the water system, said the county could potentially borrow the money at 1.89 percent interest, with a 1 percent rate reduction given for parts of the project that qualify as conservation projects. The loan term would be 20 years, with the debt service paid from county Water Resources Department revenues, not the county general fund.

County Manager Lloyd Kerr said it is too early to calculate what the impact will be on water rates.

“There will be some impact, I would imagine, because we will be taking on additional debt service, and we will have to pay that debt service from the proceeds of water sales,” he said.

Boyd outlined the needed upgrades for commissioners at a special called meeting Thursday night, saying that the county is permitted to treat a total of 29.5 million gallons of water per day at its two treatment plants — Williams Street and Cornish Creek. However, said Boyd, under current conditions, “You cannot reliably produce that every day.”

Current water demand averages 13.3 MGD; however, peak demand has topped 19 MGD, according to James Brown, director of the county’s Water Resources Department.

The bulk of the planned projects will address deficiencies in the Cornish Creek Water Treatment Plant system, which includes raw water pump station No. 2 on the Alcovy River, Lake Varner, and the Cornish Creek plant. According to a summary presented to commissioners, “The most important projects to complete are the ones that affect operator and public safety as well as the ability for Cornish Creek WTP to reliably produce its permitted capacity (of 25 MGD) since over 85 percent of the total water is produced at this facility.”

Upgrades planned for the Cornish Creek WTP system total approximately $16.1 million and include:

• Construction of a floating dock pump station in Lake Varner to increase the amount of water that can be withdrawn to 35 million gallons per day;

• Installation of a new 30-inch high-service main parallel to the existing 24-inch high-service main;

• Installation of a new 3 mega-watt backup power generator to power the entire plant during extended power outages;

• Construction of a new 3-million-gallon clearwell;

• Improvements to the Alcovy River raw water pump station by replacing a 4 MGD pump with a 12 MGD pump with variable frequency drive;

• Construction of a tank farm to replace chemical feed systems that pose potential hazards and other improvements to the Cornish Creek plant building; and

• Replacement of old high service pumps with larger high service pumps equipped with variable feed drives.

A less extensive list of upgrades is planned for the Williams Street Water Treatment Plant system, which is comprised of raw water pump station No. 1 on the Alcovy River, City Pond, and the Williams Street plant. These upgrades, which total approximately $7.3 million, include:

• Structural repairs at the Williams Street plant, which was built in 1947 and last updated 20 years ago;

• Removal of the 1-ton chlorine cylinders at Williams Street, which pose a public safety risk, and convert to bulk liquid sodium hypochlorite;

• Rehabilitation of the Alcovy River pump station;

• Rehabilitation of the concrete intake structure at City Pond and the City Pond pump station; and

• Rehabilitation of mechanical and process components at Williams Street.

Commissioners had previously thought they would be able to use a $21 million GEFA loan that was taken out for the now-shelved Bear Creek reservoir project for the water system upgrades. However, they learned that those funds would have to be directed toward development of a new drinking water supply. The county has not yet drawn any of those loan funds, which will be available to the county until February 2019.

Commissioners approved a resolution calling for Carter & Sloope to begin preparation of the $23.4 million loan application and to develop a project list to be approved by the BOC at its Aug. 15 meeting.

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I have been editor of the Rockdale Citizen since 1996 and editor of the Newton Citizen since it began publication in 2004. I am also currently executive editor of the Clayton News Daily, Henry Daily Herald and Jackson Progress-Argus.