Water authority highlights deluge of history

By Justin Boron

For the group of community leaders lunching in Morrow Thursday, Clayton County faucets and spigots aren't just pouring water. They are flooding sinks and bathtubs with the memories steeped in a vast infrastructure empire 50 years in the making.

The Clayton County Water Authority, created by the Georgia General Assembly in 1955, has grown from a single water plant serving 425 customers to a massive network of pipelines and facilities for a county of about 250,000.

Developers and county officials have heralded the utility as one of the most important components of the county's shift from a sleepy rural community of the 1970s to a bustling urban landscape of today.

Thursday, five decades worth of key players at the water authority gathered at its headquarters in Morrow to spotlight its history of challenges and successes.

The celebration's guest list of prominent members from the financial, political, and development community revealed the kind of leverage wielded by the water authority through its board membership the past five decades.

Its relationship with the Board of Commissioners has been a pivotal one.

Close ties with the commission gave way to several of the multi-million dollar bond issues the utility needed for capital projects that helped spur new development in the county.

Crandle Bray, a former water authority board member and county commission chairman, told guests at the luncheon that the water provider's organization and professionalism were on par with the best of corporate America.

"If you take the water authority and you privatized it, the water authority would be one of your (Fortune) 500 companies," he said.

Abundant resources weren't always around though.

Still in its infancy in the late 1950s, the water authority bore the hardships of being understaffed and underfunded.

William Hooper, 73, of McDonough worked his way up as an entry level employee to supervising water treatment.

Starting at a generic position that he says handled odds and ends from meter reading to office administration, Hooper said with such a small customer base the authority didn't have much on which to build.

"We didn't have any income much," he said.

"We just had to do what needed to be done."

Since the eight person staff couldn't be everywhere at once, the water authority often depended on its customers to help.

A woman who lived by the water tank in the Mountain View area used to call the water authority when the tank reached its full capacity and overflowed into her flower bed, according to "50 Years of Foresight," a history of the authority prepared by its public relations consultant Jim Woods & Associates.

Despite being short-staffed, water service was never interrupted in the county. But there was a thin margin for error at times, Hooper said.

"We had some pretty close calls," he said. "We weren't able to pump it and produce it as fast as we needed it."

Hooper said the water authority skirted disaster through the management skills of Ed Huie, a former general manager who was later appointed the water authority board of directors.

With much of the ceremony consisted of old cronies exchanging stories and darting each other well-humored quips, recent arrivals to the county's political scene looked to the horizen.

Eldrin Bell, the county commission chairman, said in his keynote address he was optimistic about the future of the water authority, saying he would do his part to provide whatever resources it needs.

Planning also has made the outlook good for the community, Bray said.

Competition for water galvanized by non-stop development in the Atlanta region, he said, will not affect Clayton County because its prepared with its 15 million gallons of extra capacity per day.