The Newton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) learned about our community’s real water problems at a special called meeting Aug. 3. An engineering evaluation presented by the Carter Sloope Company showed we have plenty of water supply in Lake Varner and City Pond to last until 2047, but not the ability to treat all of it for consumption. The months long study indicated that major repairs and upgrades are needed at both the Cornish Creek- Lake Varner facility and the City Pond-Williams Street complex.
As some will recall, in 2010 the county paid millions in borrowed money to increase the Cornish Creek Treatment Plant’s production of finished water from 15 to 25 million gallons per day (mgd). However, the recent study indicates that the county reliably can treat only 18 mgd! To fix that deficiency and others at Cornish Creek, and at the Alcovy Pumping Station, will require an estimated $16 million. That will provide the 25 mgd of treated water we already paid for once.
Some local officials think that the county ought to abandon the Williams Street Treatment Plant and City Pond which supplies it with raw water. However, the Carter Sloope engineers did not recommend that. Williams Street was originally capable of treating 4.5 mgd but to quote the engineering report, “There has not been significant capital investment made in the Williams St. WTP in over 20years and although it is operational, most of its major components have fallen into disrepair.” Upgrading the Williams Street Plant will take about $7 million, but experts say that is cheap compared to the $16-17 million needed to build a new plant.
The recent study, like the Krebs Master Water Plan of 2014, identified some public health and safety concerns that need immediate attention. Both studies called for replacement of bulk chlorine used at both treatment plants with alternate chemicals due to the dangers to both employees and the public from of chlorine gas leaks. Also, both reports stated that there are inadequate emergency power generators at Cornish Creek to provide the average daily water demand in the case of an electrical outage. There is no reasonable excuse for these safety issues to not have been addressed years ago.
It should be no surprise that our current water infrastructure is in such bad repair. For years, previous county officials spent all their efforts and over $22 million pursuing a 404 Permit to build the unneeded Bear Creek Reservoir. During that period, they allowed our existing water system to deteriorate. Now, roughly $33 million will be needed over the next few years for repairs and upgrades. And, that money will have to be borrowed too.
The only good news to report is that our current Board of Commissioners seems genuinely committed to fixing our real water problems along with the many others they inherited after decades of poor county management. Let’s hope and pray they are up to the task.