This week’s blog is from Laurie Loftin, who is grateful for easy access to clean drinking water
Water is everywhere, particularly in the news as of late. This summer, the talk was of the ongoing drought in California, followed by the deluge of rains that led to mudslides and flooding. Bolivia’s 2nd largest lake was officially declared evaporated last month. And now we have the absolute disaster unfolding in Flint, Michigan. Experts predict the damage from lead in the water supply will affect this struggling town for decades to come.
All of these headlines serve as a reminder to me. I will not take my easy access to clean and affordable water for granted.
With this in mind, I want to recognize the Athens-Clarke County Public Utilities Department. Full disclosure, I am a proud employee of this organization. Nevertheless, it is through the services provided by this department that our water is safe for consumption. Additionally, their work assists to keep our economy flowing, water resources protected, fire safety at easy access, and quality of life up to the standards we have become accustomed.
It all starts at the J.G. Beacham Drinking Water Treatment Plant, which has been key to making water delivery happen. It wasn’t always this way. For most of the 1800s, people got their water from wells and the few cisterns in the downtown area. Bucket brigades were the plan of action for extinguishing fires.
A group of men from New York opened the privately owned Athens City Water Works Company in 1882 on Lumpkin Street in the vicinity of Legion Pool. The company delivered water that was neither filtered nor treated in any way.
After complaints of poor water quality and pressure offered by the private company, the city built their own municipal system, the Athens Water Works. The city purchased the Linton property off of Barber Street and constructed a new water works filter plant that began operating in 1893. The facility had a capacity of one million gallons a day.
A combination of rapid growth following the depression of 1929, advances in water treatment practices, and the threat of flooding at the original water filter plant due to the elevation, it was necessary for Athens to begin plans for a new facility on land currently owned by the city.
The J.G. Beacham plant was put into service and dedicated in October 1936, with a capacity of seven million gallons a day. The location of the facility has remained the same for 80 years. As our population and demand for water have grown, major expansions at the facility were easily accommodated for within the given space. Today, the J.G. Beacham is capable of delivering 36 million gallons a day.
Athens has three main sources for our drinking water: 1) Middle Oconee River, 2) North Oconee River, and 3) the Bear Creek Reservoir. All water pulled must first visit J.G. Beacham. Here the addition of chemical agents into to the water aids in the removal of rust and dirt from the influent. These same agents help to protect our pipes and prevent lead and copper from leaching into our water. The water is next sent through a series of filtration and sedimentation basins before passing under the disinfecting powers of the ultraviolet lights. Clean water moves into the delivery system and arrives at our homes, schools, and business with the seemingly simple twist of a faucet.
Of course, a building cannot automagically turn our river water to drinking water standards without help. Almost 200 people work in the ACC Public Utilities Department. From installing and maintaining 800 miles of water delivery lines, to overseeing the treatment process, to performing 116,000 tests on our drinking water a year, someone is always on hand to ensure our water supply is ready for delivery.
Everyone deserves safe, reliable water. As the J.G. Beacham Drinking Water Treatment Plant heads into the 80th year of making this service available to the citizens and visitors of Athens, GA, I remind myself to take a moment and recognize the marvel of this vital delivery system. And I thank all within the ACC Public Utilities Department who commit to treating my water right.