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Watkins makes recommendations on city water woes

The Cairo City Council requested the wheels be put in motion to address deficiencies in the city’s water system. The call comes after years of discussion and on the heels of a residential fire in the northwest section of Cairo where firefighters did not have sufficient water pressure to battle the blaze.
Consulting engineer Stacy Watkins briefed the council on the planned improvements to the water system and asked for direction on how to proceed.
Watkins had hoped to be able to identify a site for a new drinking water well and treatment plant on the city’s west side, away from the only other city wells, which are on the east side.
“We found the capacity on the southwest side, but the water quality was not there,” Watkins told city officials.
A minute level of naturally occurring arsenic was detected in the water produced by the test well dug on city property off Wight Road. Watkins says the deeper you must dig a well the greater the chances of measurable amounts of arsenic being found in the water.
Watkins says traces of arsenic were found in private wells as much as a mile away from the city’s test well, but the levels of the natural occurring chemical element are not harmful. However, Georgia Environmental Protection Division regulations require that water be treated to remove all levels of arsenic in public drinking water.
“We could treat it, but you are talking about a million dollars in cost to treat the water for it,” Watkins said.
Since that discovery, city officials and Watkins have investigated the possibility of drilling a new well and constructing a new treatment plant on Cairo Municipal Airport property.
“We steered Stacy toward the airport. We think there is water there and we control the property,” City Manager Chris Addleton said.
He added, “I think this is our only option.”
Watkins would prefer not to have two plants on the east side of the city so close together to more easily balance the system.
“We can make it work, but we have to make the two plants alternate and not work against each other,” Watkins said.
The consulting engineer says it is critical for the city to put in place a new Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system.
“The SCADA system you have now has been knocked out by lightning, and it is so old it is hard to get parts for it. You really need one to operate the system and having the two plants so close to each other makes it complicated,” Watkins said.
He recommended the city consider a SCADA system that works on the city’s existing fiber optic lines to get away from the current system that uses telephone lines.
Watkins, city officials and a Lowndes County official will meet here Thursday to go over the city’s system and SCADA needs and to discuss options.
The SCADA system, Watkins explained, electronically turns pumps on and off and can open and close valves to maintain water pressure and fire flow to hydrants, which he says does not meet minimum requirements right now for many northwest Cairo fire hydrants.
“The SCADA is imperative. We need to go ahead and pursue it, posthaste, considering the current system,” Watkins said.
The engineer says the city can still construct the new elevated tank on the city’s southwest side near Washington Middle School, which will increase water pressure for the southwest section.
Watkins says the ground storage tank at the utilities office complex will need some refurbishing and it would be tied in with the new elevated tank. According to the engineer, the new elevated tank and the ground storage tank would work together with a booster pump system pumping water in and out of both tanks to keep water from becoming stagnant.
He also said some 7,000 feet of 16-inch water line will have to be laid to connect the proposed new plant to existing 16-inch water lines at U.S. 84.
Georgia EPD will also have to sign off on the construction of the treatment plant at the airport location, a process which could take about six months.
Following the update, Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas suggested the council move forward with all of the projects simultaneously.
“We’ve been talking about all of this since I came on the council and according to Mr. (Councilman Ernest) Cloud, it’s been talked about for the last 18 years. We need to get it done,” Douglas said.
Councilman Ernest Cloud offered a motion to pursue the airport site, which was seconded by Douglas and unanimously approved by the council. Watkins says he will bid the well and test well together.
Councilman Cloud also made a motion to authorize Watkins to solicit bids for the construction of the new elevated storage tank with Councilman Kermit Gilliard seconding the motion. The council unanimously approved, and Watkins says it will take about a year to complete the construction of the tank.
By timing the construction to be completed in the winter months, the consulting engineer says the city will receive more competitive bids because crews cannot work in the winter up north.
The 2010-2011 operating budget adopted Monday night includes $1,935,000 for the construction of the new water plant and the drilling of the new well. Another $1,000,000 is budgeted for the elevated water tank and $150,000 is included to complete the northwest water loop to tie in 17th Ave. N.W. to Crine Blvd.

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