By Joel Hall
During the recent Spring Conference of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals (GAWP) in Columbus, Ga., the Clayton County Water Authority (CCWA) took away several awards, including having the best-tasting tap water in the metro Atlanta region.
Last month, Clayton County water beat out water from the counties of Henry, Gwinnett, DeKalb, Cobb, and Fulton, as well as the City of Atlanta, in taste, odor, and clarity. Water samples from throughout the metro region were scrutinized in blind tests by a panel of water industry professionals.
GAWP Communications Director Bryan Wagoner said the requirements for the contest are very stringent. To even qualify for the contest, the facility entering a sample must have no federal or state monitoring violations for an entire calendar year.
"It really is an accomplishment for them to meet all of those safety requirements for the year, and that is just a prerequisite to enter," said Wagoner. "Just as you would taste wine, they go through each sample.
"Ultimately, the best-tasting water is the kind that you can't taste," Wagoner continued. "If they can taste some kind of chlorine residual or detect some kind of order, it will not score well. It is somewhat subjective, but year after year, some municipalities rise to the top, even with different panels of judges."
The last time the Clayton won the award was in 2005. Ronnie Nash, plant supervisor of the J.W. Smith Water Production Plant in Hampton -- one of three water production plants operated by the county -- said the award can be attributed to the extra care the county takes with its water.
"We've won it before," said Nash. "We do what it takes and we keep up with technology. We're doing a lot more than the state requires."
Nash credited the county's constructed wetlands for allowing the county to reclaim 10 million gallons of used water a day and for providing a natural "polishing" process for the water before it ever enters the plant.
Water from the county's reservoirs goes through a series of large filters, each filled with anthracite coal, sand, and various grades of gravel. The filtered water is then treated with alum -- a chemical which positively charges the water and causes particulate matter to coagulate -- and sodium hypochlorite to disinfect the water. It is then infused with fluoride -- to promote healthy teeth and bones -- and phosphate, to aid in the corrosion control of pipes.
One thing that separates Clayton County water from the water in other counties is that the water in all three production facilities goes through an ultraviolet disinfecting process. Filtered water is pumped into a series of chambers, the inner walls of which are lined with dozens of ultraviolet lamps. Exposure to the light kills bacteria which have adapted to chlorine.
In August, Clayton County water will represent the metro Atlanta area in the state-wide competition in Atlanta. If successful there, Clayton County will represent the state of Georgia during the American Water Works Association Tap Water Tasting Contest in California next year.
CCWA Spokesperson Suzanne Brown said the CCWA is "thrilled" about Clayton County water standing out among its peers. "What it really represents is the employees we have that work behind the scenes in the facilities and our system in general," said Brown. "We have award-winning facilities and award-winning programs here that really go hand-in-hand with us having good-tasting water."