City water system faces financial woes
by Neil McGahee
Jun 06, 2014 | 1719 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Turn on the tap, fill a glass and raise a toast. Cartersville’s drinking water is the best-tasting in Georgia.

A panel of judges from the Georgia section of the American Water Works Association — all experts on drinking water — agreed that the Cartersville Water Department has the best-tasting tap water in the state.

But we have a problem.

Cartersville’s water works is facing some dire days thanks to outdated, in some cases crumbling, equipment and a dearth of money to repair them, according to Water Department Director Bob Jones.

According to his report, more than $80 million will be needed — some immediately and some later — in order to continue running the system. And the revenue to pay for it isn’t there.

“I like to break it up into the things we need right away, the things we need to do in the next five years and the stuff that can be done later,” Jones said. “Our biggest concern right now is the water plant itself.”

Some of the most expensive repairs involve the tank farm at the water plant.

“These are issues that we are going to have to address soon,” Jones said. “They are going to have big impacts on our budget, and we need to enter into conversations early so we can plan properly.”

Jones said the water treatment plant is a matter of deep concern.

“The sedimentation basins were built in 1971 and expanded in 1974 and number two high surface building and the 2 million gallon clearwell. We have undersized tanks, and we have to take full loads of chemicals so we have to fill one tank to the limit to fit the load.”

Jones said the most practical solution is to build a tank farm adjacent to the plant at a cost of $2.5 million.

Jones showed image after image of crumbling basins — in one case a finger-sized hole all the way through the basin. The cost to rehab the structure — $4 million.

Another image showed the 2-million gallon clearwell with cracks in the wall of the concrete structure, a problem that has gone on for at least 10 years.

“It is becoming a pressing issue,” Jones said. “The fix for this is a coating on the inside of the tank at a cost of $300,000, but no one will guarantee the coating will stop the problem.”

Other items in need of repairs are the pumps that send the water through the system, aging electric breakers that control the entire plant and 70- to 100-year-old pipes.

The biggest problem facing the city is the lack of revenue to pay for the work.

“If you go back in history to 2007,” City Manager Sam Grove said, “there was a significant drought and the state required us to reduce water consumption by 10 percent and the Metropolitan North Georgia Planning Water Council that had conservation rates in place and that further reduced consumption. Then, in 2008, the economy turned sour. So our revenue from water use plummeted as business and residential customers cut back. That leaves us with big spots we have to cover and we don’t have the revenue to cover it. When you look at the amount of money we used to have compared to what we have now, there’s a pool of $15 to $20 million that in normal years we would have, but we don’t.”

Mayor Matt Santini said that although the report is troubling, citizens shouldn’t worry about the safety of the drinking water.

In other business, council:

• approved four zoning applications that incorporated portions of the county into the city.

• authorized a flood study for the Terrell Heights neighborhood.

• authorized $35,000 for the purchase of a new police car and accessories to replace one that was destroyed in a high-speed pursuit.

• authorized $14,400 for the purchase of 200 meters for the gas company.

• authorized $9,918 to replace a compressor at the Senior Aquatic Center.

Cartersville City Council will meet next on June 19 at 7 p.m. at city hall.