A Master Water Plan that was never completed and for which the county paid Krebs Engineering over $200,000 was found to contain serious flaws in an independent review submitted to county officials recently by the Water and Sewerage Authority.
The review, prepared by three different engineering firms and the authority’s own chief engineer, cited inflated population projections and water demands, an inadequate hydraulic model, and a “lack of understanding regarding the transmission and distribution system,” contributing to “poorly-supported recommendations in the report.”
According to the review, the Krebs’ report recommends $24.1 million in improvements to existing infrastructure and construction of the proposed Bear Creek reservoir for another $99.1 million for a total investment of $123.2 million excluding operation and maintenance costs after completion.
The report does not identify funding mechanisms, but Newton County has been approved for a $21 million low interest loan from the state for the project. Critics of the project have questioned Krebs’ objectivity, arguing that the firm stands to benefit from future contracts with the construction of the reservoir.
“We estimate the wholesale water rates will probably need to double within 5 years of starting the project to cover the debt service,” the report’s authors wrote. “What this means to the average NCWSA water customer who uses 6,000 gal./month is that water bill increase from $38.45 per month to $65.37 per month after these projects start.”
“After reviewing the report there does not appear to be any urgency to build the Bear Creek reservoir at this time,” the review concluded. “The wiser use of money is to repair/upgrade Newton County’s current treatment facilities to [ensure] the needed capacity.”
Based on current population growth rates and per capita water demands, Newton County may not need additional water sources until 2040, the review found.
The document also expressed concern over apparent deficiencies in the county’s existing infrastructure, particularly Krebs’ assertion that the Cornish Creek and Williams Street water treatment plants combined treatment capacity is only 20.7 million gallons a day (MGD) despite their permitted capacity of 29.5 MGD.
“Until now, these deficiencies have been unknown to the Authority and given the fact that recent upgrades to Cornish Creek WTP [in 2010] failed to address these issues is of grave concern to us and our ratepayers because these deficiencies significantly impact the reliability of our primary water source and ultimately the health and safety of the public,” the review read. “In addition, a present worth analysis focused on developing possible interconnections with surrounding public entities [counties]…should be undertaken to determine if such an approach would be of value in meeting future demands while providing a cost effective solution for ratepayers.”
The report also noted that the Krebs did not take into account or appear aware of existing pipes between Rockdale and Newton counties which have been used twice during emergencies and can supply at least 4 MGD.
The review recommended going forward with the permitting process for Bear Creek, but waiting until demand justifies its construction to start building.