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Local officials want more control of water management

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

The Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority (HCWSA) wants more local control of its water management.

Drought-related water restrictions could adversely affect the water authority, if it continues to fall just short of mandated requirements for reduced water consumption, said Roderick Burch, HCWSA finance director.

"If the state would relax the standards [remove its 10 percent water reduction mandate] for those counties that have properly prepared for the drought, we'd be OK," Burch said. "All we want is to be allowed to manage our water supply in a manner that we feel is best for Henry County."

In January, he said, the authority also saw rain fall amounts decrease by about eight-tenths of an inch below the normal measure in Henry. He added that about 9 percent less water was consumed that month, compared to what was consumed in January 2007.

The HCWSA reported an average daily water use of 13.4 million gallons in January compared to 14.5 million in January 2007.

That reduced consumption, Burch said, is being done in conjunction with the water authority's growing consumer base. Henry is roughly 2,000 homes and businesses larger this year than it was in 2007.

Since December 2007, the HCWSA has narrowly missed making Georgia's Environmental Protection Division's (EPD) mandate for consumers and water authorities to reduce water consumption by 10 percent each month from the previous year's reported water usage.

The reduction requirement, according to the state department of natural resources, impacts 856 permit holders in 61 counties of north Georgia.

Burch believes that the HCWSA has effectively conserved and reduced its water consumption by more than 10 percent, considering Henry's growth over the past year.

"EPD has not specifically said what the penalties are going to be," he said. "But they can fine violators up to $100,000 a day."

The Georgia Safe Drinking Water Act allows fines up to $1,000 per violation and up to $1,000 a day for continuous violations. The Georgia Groundwater Use Act allows fines up to $1,000 per violation and up to $500 a day for continuous violations.

Privately owned public systems, like restaurants, day care centers, mobile home parks, and subdivisions, can be penalized $250. The Georgia Water Quality Control Act allows fines up to $50,000 a day per violations and up to $100,000 a day per violation for repeat violations within 12 months.

Burch said water consumption and demand has decreased this winter as it typically does this time of year in Henry.

The decreased demand prompted authority officials to take its Tussahaw Reservoir and Water Treatment Plant off line temporarily.

The 1,466-acre, 40-foot-deep reservoir and water treatment plant is capable of pumping 13 million gallons a day.

"The point is that the water restrictions that are in place now have reduced water demand to the point where, during the winter season, we don't need to use the reservoir," Burch said.

The HCWSA's larger Towaliga Reservoir, pumps out significantly more water than Tussahaw (32 million gallons) and is being used to handle the water authority's current demand for 54,000 customers.

"It's the state's call to make," Burch said. "But we would like the state to consider that we have properly planned for this drought. We are not part of the Chattahoochee basin, but we are a part of the Upper Ocmulgee basin."

Other north Georgia reservoirs, Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona, have experienced some of the worst effects of the state's drought.

"We're very much different from Lake Lanier and Allatoona [which are managed by the Army Corps of Engineers]," Burch said. "All of the reservoirs that serve Henry County are built, operated and owned by the Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority for the specific purposes of supplying drinking water to the residents of Henry County."

Burch said that the authority has had some discussion with officials at the state-level, but have not yet made any formal requests regarding the mandates or penalties that could arise for missing the mandates.

He added that the authority's reservoirs appear to be strong and strengthening.

"Things are looking pretty good here," Burch said. "We could very well be at full pool at our reservoirs by the beginning of summer ... with moderate rain fall."

Phone calls were not returned by the Department of Natural Resources Environmental Protection Division late Friday regarding the state mandate and possible penalties.