Published Friday, October 12, 2012
By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL
State Sen. Mike Crane, R-Newnan, got a tutorial in the workings of the Coweta Water and Sewerage Authority at Wednesday’s board meeting.
Crane was invited to sit in on Wednesday’s meeting, and later toured the authority’s main office on Corinth Road.
“We are honored to have our state senator with us today,” said board Chairman Neal Shepard. “We would love to make ourselves available to you however you would like,” he said.
“We’re really proud of our facilities,” Shepard added. The authority’s facilities are “our infrastructure for economic development for this community for the future.”
“At some point in time, if it’s not already, water is going to be the biggest issue we face,” Crane said.
Interim General Manager Jay Boren and authority attorney Melissa Griffis told Crane about the recent agreement with the city of Griffin over changes to the 50-year water contract.
The agreement was “a big win for our ratepayers, as well as a regional win,” said authority member Eric Smith.
The contract was originally signed in 1999. “Were we scared that we wouldn’t have access to water?” Crane asked.
At the time, the water system was a county department. “We understand that they were anticipating growth in Coweta that, due to the economy, did not materialize as anticipated,” Griffis said.
“So y’all just had to deal with the bad idea?” Crane asked.
“We had to make the best of a situation that we were dealt,” Griffis said.
The county spun off the authority as an independent entity in 2007. That’s also the time the authority’s B.T. Brown Water Treatment Plant went online.
“Circumstances changed, the growth stopped. The economy just crashed,” said Shepard. “We had years of just no growth. In fact, we’ve actually seen reductions,” Shepard said.
They are starting to see some growth, Shepard said.
“Very little, but it is there,” said Crane.
Crane also learned about some of the work the authority has done in the last several years to improve the system and reduce “unaccounted for” or “non revenue” water. Before the work began, 38 to 40 percent of the authority’s produced water was lost because of leaks and other problems. Now, it’s around 10 percent.
“I know there are some other systems in our general vicinity that are not 10 percent,” Crane said.
“We’ve rebuilt our system for the most part,” said Shepard. “We’ve replaced piping that was bad. We’re vigilant about our meters,” he said.
“We’re trying, constantly, to see more efficiencies because the people that we answer to are our rate payers,” Shepard said. “This is not county subsidized anymore. Rate payers are the people we have to make sure we deliver the product for, at the most reasonable rates we can.”
Crane asked how the authority’s rates compare to other water providers.
“We’re not at the bottom, but we’re not at the very top, either,” said Boren.
“We’re somewhere in the middle,” said Shepard. But it depends on what other utilities you’re looking at. “You can’t just compare us to Newnan Utilities. You have to compare to other utilities” that are similar, he said.
Newnan Utilities, for instance, has a much more compact system, while the county-wide system is spread out. Also, the Newnan system is an old, established utility. “They’re not having to pay for ... the cost of new facilities. This is still a relatively new venture,” said Shepard. The water system really started expanding in the mid-1990s. A water plant and other facilities are major investments.
The authority has approximately 24,500 water customers and about 2,000 sewer customers.
The authority’s Shenandoah Wastewater Treatment Plant has a 2 million gallon per day capacity, and is currently operating at 800,000 gallons per day.
Authority crews are currently working on a sewer expansion that will serve Ga. Hwy. 16 East at the proposed Newnan bypass extension. Another extension will link it to proposed schools on Corinth Road.
“Although we have great facilities and we do have capacity for the future, we also have great people,” said Shepard. “Our staff has been part of this evolutionary process. We’ve got about 60 some odd employees we think are about as fine as you’ll find,” Shepard said.
In other meeting business:
• The board approved making changes to the authority’s insurance providers, based on re-bids. The authority will be moving from Traveler’s to Companion Property and Casualty for liability and property insurance and from Key Risk to Builders for workers compensation.
The workers compensation premium dropped dramatically. It was $62,000, and Key Risk offered a $42,000 premium this year. However, Builder’s quote was $34,500.
There were state changes to workers comp that went into effect in July. Prices for many “codes” actually went up but “fortunately for us, one of our major codes had a rate decrease,” said Rick Tamplin of J. Smith Lanier.
• Authority crews installed 37 new meters in September. Most of those were “drops” — meters that are installed at subdivision lots where the infrastructure had been put in place previously.
The construction crew only switched out one old-style meter for the new “E-Coder” radio read meters last month, because there was so much other work to do. There are about 25,000 radio read meters already installed, without about 1,000 old meters.
Crane asked what sort of system the authority has for detecting abnormalities in meters, such as high flow rates indicating leaks.
After a meter is read, the data is downloaded at the office. The software system looks for abnormalities. “Parameters are set. If it is higher than normal, it kicks out a recheck” notice, said Construction Director Rick Jones. For every recheck notice, “they go out and check the meter,” Jones said. “If it is showing a leak, we notify the customer.”
The E-Coders, the newest meters, store 90 days of data, including flow rates, dates and times. “So you can see all the spikes,” said Jones. “It makes it a lot more helpful when you have to explain to a customer why a bill is like it is.”