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Officials talk about recent water crisis

May 19, 2023

The latest water crisis in Milledgeville has led to city officials talking more openly about the city's aging water system.

This week city leaders engaged in a community discussion about the most recent problem at Wednesday morning's Eggs & Issues breakfast event.

Then on Thursday morning, Milledgeville City Council held a special called work session where they engaged in more detail with the local business community and other city water customers.

Several members from the Baldwin County Board of Commissioners, as well as representatives of the county's water department also attended the meeting. Others in attendance included Baldwin County Schools Superintendent Dr. Noris Price, Associate Schools Superintendent Matt Adams, Paul Barkley, who oversees operations at Atrium Health Navicent Baldwin hospital in Milledgeville and several representatives from Georgia College & State University.

"We’re here to provide some information and answer your questions," City Manager Hank Griffeth said. "If you were at Eggs & Issues, you heard a little bit of this."

The city manager provided more details than were shared at the breakfast meeting.

"We have some major stakeholders in the room today in terms of businesses and in terms of institutions around this city, and we want to do everything we can do to answer your questions," Griffeth said. "We want to also hear from you and some of the ideas that you have in terms of things that you think we might be able to do, hopefully not to be dealing with this in the future."

Griffeth explained what happened to cause the latest water disruptions on April 24.

A motor attached to the largest high-service pump at the Lamar Hamm water treatment plant failed.

"It just failed to operate anymore," Griffeth said.

A secondary pump was started up by city water officials but its pumping capacity was a good bit smaller than the larger pump that stopped working after the motor burned up, the city manager said.

"We anticipated that the secondary pump along with the water that was already in the tanks would enable us to sustain necessary water levels until a portable pump could be shipped in and connected," Griffeth said. "Unfortunately, the portable pump was delayed."

A portable pump and motor was eventually shipped by truck to Milledgeville from New Jersey. The city leased it.

Before the portable pump arrived and was eventually installed, the water levels on the tanks decreased and water customers were without water or had very little water pressure, Griffeth said.

"The smaller pump could not maintain the water levels needed to serve the water customers," he said.

The city manager said water and sewer and utility maintenance staffs began working to see if they could get some more efficiency out of the smaller pump, as well as to get a smaller pump started.

"While they were doing that they realized that there was a gate-valve failure in a line coming off that pump," Griffeth said.

At that point, city officials had to call in contractor to do what is known as live-inserts so water could be turned off until the gate valve could be repaired or completely removed.

He said once the secondary pump and smaller pump were up and going, the city was pumping about 6 million gallons of water per day.

"We typically have to pump around 4.25 to 4.5 million gallons per day on a regular day outside of summer," Griffeth said.

The tanks began filling up because the pumps were pumping more than the city uses within a day's time.

On Wednesday night, Griffeth said Robert Hadden, city water and sewer director, called him and informed him the pumps were turning out 6 million gallons of water.

"And so when the tanks started filling and people started getting water back, and the pressure started building again, most people as far as we could tell, had water by Thursday morning, and everybody had their pressure back by Thursday afternoon," Griffeth said. "Because we had had some areas that had not had water, we then issued a boil water advisory, which is required by the State Environmental Protection Water Shed Division."

The city manager said state EPD officials require that a boil water advisory be issued anytime there is widespread loss of water pressure occurs in the distribution system due to a power outage, pump failure or some sort of other water system malfunction.

"We had to issue a BWA for the entire system, even though some people had had water the entire time," Griffeth said.

At that time, city officials were unclear who had water and who didn't have it.

"I took a lot of phone calls from restaurants, especially from restaurants that didn't have water for the first two days, and then I took a lot of phone calls from restaurants who had water the first two days," Griffeth said. "They were calling me and giving me down the country for issuing the BWA because they then had to close."

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