Athens-Clarke County Drinking Water
J.G. Beacham Plant has won the Platinum Award from the Georgia Association of Water Professionals for 11 years
By Suzanne Forcese
Athens - Clarke County Water
“Flint, MI, changed the way people think about water and eroded trust in the safety of our drinking water supply. Utilities can no longer be silent. It’s important to show folks where their drinking water comes from, how we treat it, the tests that we run, and the systems and processes that are in place.” -- William Cottrell, Superintendent J.G. Beacham Water Treatment Plant
In 1880, a private water company built the first waterworks in the City of Athens, Georgia.
In the early 1890s after years of complaints from the local residents, the city ended the private water company’s franchise and constructed a municipal waterworks. The first municipal system had a capacity of 1 million gallons per day and 16 miles of water lines serving a limited area of the community.
The J.G. Beacham Water Treatment Plant began operation in 1935 as a 3 million gallon a day surface water treatment plant.
Today, the water system has the capacity to produce 36 MGD, with about 800 miles of water lines delivering high-quality drinking water to 98% of the population. Serving 130,000 people, the water treatment plant’s yearly average is around 12 MGD with peak months in August and September that can reach up to 14 MGD.
WATERTODAY connected with William Cottrell, Superintendent of the J.G.
Beacham Water Treatment Plant and ACC’s Water Conservation Coordinator, Laurie Loftin to learn about the award-winning water plant and the team’s community engagement.
Transparency Through Tours & Outreach
The J.G. Beacham Plant’s award-winning outreach and education program through the Water Conservation Office organizes tours for all ages and groups to the drinking water plant. Educational tours for K-12 are organized annually designed to correlate with the Georgia Standards of Excellence. UGA students majoring in engineering, environmental sciences, water resources, and even poetry also tour the facilities. Between 1998 and 2021, the J.G. Beacham Plant has won the Platinum Award from the Georgia Association of Water Professionals for 11 years
“The water industry is typically referred to internally as a ‘silent service’. A common belief is that we have a good day when we do our job without anyone taking notice. Unfortunately, by being silent we miss an opportunity for people to recognize the value of the service, and it is easily taken for granted,” Cottrell said.
“Tours allow us to provide transparency, and we are available to answer questions in person. Additionally, tour guests are our ratepayers. They are investors in our infrastructure. By inviting people to the facility, we can show our customers how their dollars are spent. Hopefully, they will have a better appreciation of their drinking water and would be willing to help fund the facility and infrastructure improvements that are required to keep it operational.”
The Water Conservation Office also provides continuous school-year water education for early learners through The Little Lily Pad Project. A video series is available that showcases different water professionals reading stories for the “Froggie Tales” series.
“During the pandemic, we halted tours. Our employees are the ultimate service workers. Our service allowed people to do the number one recommendation to protect against the virus – handwashing! We couldn’t risk bringing people to the facility. At the same time, schools were looking for virtual learning opportunities. In response, we created a video mixing in a bit of humor, “drop” quizzes for an interactive experience of the technical processes,” Loftin adds.
ACC Drinking Water Treatment Tour
The J.G. Beacham Water Treatment Plant is a conventional surface water plant. Water pulled from the county’s three main water sources, the North Oconee River, Middle Oconee River, and the Bear Creek Reservoir go through the processes of coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, and disinfection.
From Source To Tap
The raw water enters the treatment plant and chemicals are added. The water then flows into a “rapid mix” chamber, where the chemicals cause small particles (such as sand, silt, and clay) to clump together, forming floc.
The water and floc pass-through chambers with motorized mixers called flocculators. The mixing gradually causes the floc to become larger particles, which are heavier than the water. Next, the water flows through settling basins where the floc sinks to the bottom, forming sediment that is then removed from the system and disposed of.
The water passes through tube settlers, weirs, and filters made up of anthracite and sand. The filters catch the smallest particles remaining in the water, including any floc that was not removed in the sedimentation basins. Water turbidity tests verify that the water is crystal clear after moving through these crystal beds
The crystal-clear water flows through ultra-violet (UV) light reactors to sterilize bacteria and viruses that might not have been removed in the filtration system. The water now travels to an area for post-treatment. Lime is added from the proper pH level, Chlorine for further disinfection, and Fluoride.
After post-treatment, the water travels into a large storage tank called a clear well. The water remains in the clear well to allow for chlorine disinfection and to ensure that harmful microorganisms are not present. From the clear well, the finished water is pumped into the distribution system and water storage tanks.
Moving Forward, Lead and Emerging Contaminants of Concern
Superintendent William Cottrell told WT:
"We are working on a Water Quality Optimization Study with one of our on-call engineering firms which will help us perform a holistic review of water quality from source to tap. This will help us evaluate ways to reduce the formation of disinfection by-products (DBPs).
As part of the project, we are reviewing our current corrosion control treatment strategy in preparation for meeting the requirements of USEPA’s Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) Revisions.
Also, in June 2020, a Waterworks Drive Master Plan was completed that covers future water production treatment processes and recommendations. The future water production treatment technology at the WTP is based on the potential need for treatment processes that can be used to address taste and odor compounds as well as other water quality concerns such as reduction of disinfection byproducts (DBPs), contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) and future regulatory contaminants."
We take a proactive approach to prevent lead from leaching into our drinking water. Long-term planning has allowed Athens-Clarke County to replace pipes within our distribution system and eliminate lead service lines.
ACC tests for lead every three years. In our last Lead and Copper sampling in July and August of 2021, no lead was found in 37 of the 50 samples. In 11 samples, the level was 4ppb or lower. Two sample results were above the action level of 15ppb. We resampled these locations and concentrations were significantly lower. We told the residents that running the water after long periods of non-use and the use of carbon filters can reduce exposure.
Revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule require water utilities to conduct additional mitigation measures to address potential lead contamination. The PUD has begun compiling a lead service line inventory in anticipation of these requirements. We are working with a consulting firm to identify homes and buildings that may have lead or galvanized pipes past the meter.
Once complete, the utility will provide customers with a searchable database for addresses suspected to have lead pipes. The PUD will be exploring ways to assist homeowners and businesses with replacing lines identified as lead. Starting in 2024, those regulations will be more stringent and would require the replacement of some fixtures and/or service lines at locations where the result is above the action level.
In 2015, quarterly sampling for PFAS was completed as part of UCMR3. All results were non-detectable for PFAS. In June 2021 additional sampling was conducted at the request of ACC’s Water Conservation Office. 18 PFAS compounds were tested, 14 of which were non-detectable. 3 of the compounds were between LOD and LOQ. (The LOD is the lowest analyte concentration that can be distinguished from the assay background, while the LOQ is the lowest concentration at which the analyte can be quantitated at defined levels for imprecision and accuracy) Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS) was the one compound detected at the level above the LOQ. The concentration was 2.3 ppt which is well below the EPAs current health advisory level.
Additional PFAS sampling and testing will be conducted this year by the GA EPD and utility staff as they implement a monitoring strategy to assess the level of PFAS contamination in drinking water and drinking water sources across the State. In addition, PFAS testing is part of the EPA’s UCMRS that starts in November this year.
The Safe Drinking Water Act requires that once every 5 years the EPA issue a list of unregulated contaminants to be monitored by public water systems. Some of the emerging contaminants are assessed through this process. Most of these contaminants results are non-detectable for Athens Clarke County’s water system.
The location of the WTP and the associated pumping stations are above historic flood levels, but the additional suspended matter after heavy rains increases cost and can make treatment more difficult.
Periodic droughts do affect Athens- Clarke county’s water supply. Since 2001 the Bear Creek Reservoir has helped mitigate those effects. Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department recently purchased the Hanson Aggregates Quarry and is planning to use this as a reservoir to provide customers with additional water supply during droughts.
The Athens Water Festival
This annual festival brings together local water-focused organizations to offer hands-on activities for participants. Drinking water operators bring a display of how our water is treated, and children can make their own water filters.
Our Water and Sewer crews bring out the trucks, and kids run through the spray of the water trucks to cool off in the heat.
Participants leave with a new understanding of how our lives depend on water and a good memory of the water utility.
We have a great impact on our community and are making a difference. We strive every day to provide clean safe drinking water to the ratepayers of Athens-Clarke County, and that is what we do.
It’s all about changing the way we think about water!
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