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Well watered
Local water treatment plant receives expansion
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Newton County recently completed a $12 million expansion of its main water treatment plant, a project that will ensure the county has adequate water for the next five years.

Officials had a dedication ceremony Tuesday morning at the Cornish Creek Water Treatment Facility, which had its capacity increased from 15 million gallons per day to 25 MGD.

"This is something for the county as a whole, something that everybody in the county can be proud of," said Jason Nord, Cornish Creek plant manager.

Local residents are using 16-18 MGD this summer. The expansion gives the county the ability to pump 23.5 MGD, Nord said. Walton County owns 25 percent of Lake Varner and its water production, but Newton County supplements its water production with 4.5 MGD from the 60-year-old Williams Street Treatment Facility in downtown Covington.

Water usage is even lower in the winter, so Nord said the additional 10 MGD of capacity should last the county for about five years, when it will be able to start on the fourth and final phase of expansion at the Cornish Creek Facility. When it’s completely built out, Cornish Creek will be able to produce 35 MG D. While Newton County has an abundant supply of water, that wasn’t always the case. During the dry season of 1986, City Pond, the county’s lone reservoir at the time, experienced a dangerous drop in its water levels, and Newton County nearly ran out of water.

"City Pond almost went dry; it was touch and go there for a while," said Jim Mathis, president of Atlanta-based Infratec Consultants, the company that designed the Cornish Creek facility.

Lake Varner was built to protect the county from such episodes. Leaders believe the county will eventually outgrow Lake Varner, which is why they’ve been working to get a third reservoir, Bear Creek, built.

Nord said despite the economic slowdown, the county has still been experiencing between 5 percent and 8 percent growth in water use per year.

In addition to adding several more treatment and pumping units, the plant also had its control system revamped. Nord said replacing some of the 20-year-old equipment with advanced computer-controlled ones will allow the plant to keep staffing levels low and save money. Mathis said the system gives plant operators the ability to monitor many systems more effectively.

The cost of the project was $13.8 million, Mathis said, with a little more than $12 million dedicated to construction costs. The expansion took about two years to complete and came in under budget.

"It’s a very modern, up-to-date plant that is doing an excellent job," said Commissioner Mort Ewing who attended Tuesday’s ceremony.

The county has a rare set-up, because it’s an exclusive wholesaler, selling to the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, various municipalities and other counties. Those groups in turn sell directly to residents and businesses. The Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority is the only entity in Georgia that is an exclusive wholesaler, Nord said.

Because of its ability to produce efficiently water, Newton County’s rates are among the lowest in the state based on a previous internal study, Nord said. All profit made by the Newton County Water Resources department is reinvested in the department, which is self-funded. The department has 17 employees, including 10 plant operators, Nord said. Half are paid by the county and half are paid by the city, harking back to a time when the city ran some of the facilities. City employees have been phased out as they retire.