Dan Walker of the Houston County Water Authority talks about how much water the county uses, where it comes from and its quality.
Occupation: Utility superintendent for Houston County Water Authority
Q: How many gallons of water are used throughout Houston County?
A: The daily average is 15 million gallons for the county system itself, not including municipality systems. That’s average. In summer and times of drought it’s more, maybe 23 million a day, or less, maybe 8 million, so you get the idea.
Q: How about for Warner Robins, Perry and Centerville? Do you know their use?
A: I believe Warner Robins is just a little less, probably about 11 or 12 million gallons a day, Perry is about 3 million and Centerville 1 to 1.5 million. That’s just over 30 million overall.
Q: How is the water supply? Where does it come from?
A: Wells. All the county’s systems have deep wells, 600, 700, 800 feet. Houston County is blessed with plenty of water, plenty of good water. Where they have shortages up in Atlanta and north Georgia — knock on wood — we do not. They rely on surface water, rainfall and lakes. We rely on wells, underground water from the aquifer and it’s in good shape. Like a lake it’s cyclical: it gets lower in summer and recharges in winter. But we’re in good shape.
Q: How about the aquifer? What is it?
A: An aquifer is a layer of rock and whatnot that’s permeable, meaning water can pass through it, it can hold water and our wells tap into that. Ours is called the Cretaceous Sand Aquifer and it stretches well outside Houston County covering the central part of the state on down towards Florida. Florida has a different one.
Q: Generally, how is quality?
A: We have a good supply and it’s good quality. It requires very little treatment. We add lime to get the pH adjusted, chlorine to make sure there’s nothing harmful, fluoride for teeth, then a phosphate to reduce corrosion so nothing leeches out. We’re lucky we have to do minimal treatment.
Q: So people in Houston County don’t need to worry about getting “miracle” water treatments or filters?
A: It’s their choice, but they’re not likely needed.
Q: How do county and municipal systems relate?
A: The county and each municipality have their own water system certified by the state. The county does sell water to cities because as cities grow they take county land already served by our water lines. It was decided years ago that instead of putting in new parallel water lines the county would sell water to the city used at those addresses. The county doesn’t have sewer lines so the city provides them, but they don’t double up on the water lines.
Q: Back to the upper versus lower Georgia water supplies, are you saying when people hear about squabbles there it’s not a real concern here?
A: It’s more like when the big drought hit there in 2007-2008 they came up with statewide limits on everybody and we didn’t really need them. We weren’t in the position they were. They finally realized it and lessened them here. Having said that, it’s not so drastic as there, but at times like in summer when there hasn’t been much rain we do go lower than usual and people might need to watch use. I think the biggest problem is overwatering lawns. I want everybody to have a good lawn but even in dry times people don’t need to water more than a couple days a week. That’s healthier because it encourages roots to grow deep. If there’s too much water they won’t and that’s not as healthy. But we’ve been fortunate to have a good rain this year.
Q: What about water emergencies big and small? Even like the fiasco in Flint, Michigan, a couple of years ago?
A: I’ve been Houston County superintendent for 14 years and before that was with the Perry system for 24. I’ve never known of an actual emergency. There are times we’ve asked people to boil water but that’s been a precaution. Maybe a line broke, maybe a section had to be shut off, but the main thing about a boil water advisory here has been precaution. It gives time to collect samples and the 18 to 24 hours for them to incubate and make sure there’s no problem.
Q: How about Flint? Could that happen here?
A: Never say never, but not likely. Not likely at all. Every system in the U.S. must test for lead and copper. We do it all the time. It’s my understanding in Flint they weren’t adding lime and phosphate to prevent corrosion like they should and proper testing should have shown that. They were buying water from elsewhere and just dropped the ball. We get our own water from the ground and we take care of it.
Q: Who uses the most water?
A: In Georgia, the biggest use is agricultural. Definitely. It’s mainly irrigation. It’s true in Houston County, too. I’d say agriculture use is 10 times more than residential.
Q: How many water tanks does the county have?
A: We have 15 elevated tanks and our largest is half a million gallons. The elevation provides water pressure for the system. Then we have 19 separate treatment plants and we have about 750 miles of pipe in the ground. As far as tanks go, I think Perry has four, Centerville two and Warner Robins — I’m trying to think — about six or seven. Warner Robins has booster pumps in their system so they don’t have to have as many elevated tanks.
Q: How many employees in your system?
A: Thirty-eight from treatment to maintenance to meter reading and billing. We provide what people take for granted every day and try to stay ahead by digging new wells and building new plants. I don’t think people realize it’s not their taxes that pay for the system but we’re an enterprise system meaning what we do is paid for by customers. Of course we and county officials like to have a heart and be responsive, but like a business we can’t do just anything or run a line anywhere. For the good of the system and all our customers we have to know it will pay for itself in time.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.