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Protecting Newton's water
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As a result of the need to stay abreast of the increasingly numerous federal soil erosion and storm water runoff regulations, the Newton County Board of Commissioners has formed a new county department - the Water Resources Department and has named Karl Kelley as its director.

Before he was named director of the Water Resources Department, Kelley worked as an assistant county engineer for Newton County and was the director of Rockdale County's Public Services and Engineering Department for eight years. With 25 years of experience as a civil engineer Kelley said that he is very happy with his new position.

"It's really nice to be as excited about my job now as I was when I was 25-years-old," Kelley said.

Kelley described the new department's scope as being very large. In addition to overseeing the enforcement of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System regulations, Kelley's department will oversee the Cornish Creek and Williams Street water treatment plants and the county's reservoirs at City Pond and Lake Varner.

According to Kelley, federal law requires that NPDES agents inspect all construction activities to ensure that harmful chemicals aren't released into the public's water supply through pollutants carried by sediments which make their way into the county's rivers, lakes and streams.

"We in Newton County are going to have to get more aggressive in enforcing storm water regulations," Kelley said.

Until 2005, storm water and soil erosion regulations had fallen under the authority of County Engineer Kevin Walter and the Public Works Department. But due to the large amount of construction taking place in the county and the necessity of staying in compliance with NPDES, the BOC at the advice of consultants began to consider forming a new department to relieve some of the strain from Public Works.

"We just felt we needed someone in a position who could stay up-to-date on all of the rules," said County Chairman Aaron Varner of the BOC's decision to form the Water Resources Department in February.

Counting NPDES agents, employees at the water treatment plants and reservoirs, the Water Resources Department will employ approximately 30 people.

The Water Resources Department will be taking over drainage maintenance from the Public Works Department and flood plain management from the Geographic Information Systems Department. The only thing water-related that his department will not oversee is wastewater and sewage, said Kelley.

 "The benefit of this department is the citizens now have one place to go for all water-related issues," Kelley said. "Right now we're only three to four months into this, and I'm really looking forward to some input on how all of this is going to turn out."

The Water Resources Department will oversee the expansion of the Cornish Creek plant from 15 million gallons a day to 25 million gallons a day. Kelley said he expected the expansion to be completed in 18 months to two years.

While approximately 90 percent of the necessary right of way has been acquired for the creation of the Bear Creek Reservoir - a project long in the making for the county - Kelley said the county is currently re-applying for its 404 permit from the Environmental Protection Agency which is required before any other further steps can be taken in the project. Acquiring the permit could take anywhere from 18 months to four years.

"As soon as that permit is obtained, it is our goal to begin work on that dam." Kelley said.

Construction costs for the project will be determined by the conditions of the permit said Kelley.