Fulton County cancels Cauley Creek contract

Commissioners save money, defy EPD

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JOHNS CREEK, GA. - The Fulton County Board of Commissioners voted 5-2 Sept. 19 to terminate their contract with the Cauley Creek Reclamation and Reuse Facility.

The facility, located in Johns Creek, was contracted to clean 5 million gallons of waste water per day into “gray water,” or water fit for irrigation but not drinking. This water is commonly used by churches and golf courses.

Instead, the Board of Commissioners voted to terminate to contract in favor of using the new Johns Creek Environmental Campus, which has been running well below capacity since it opened. It currently cleans about 3 million gallons of water a day (out of 15 mgd capacity) and makes it clean enough to drink.

The cash-strapped county asserts this will save them roughly $6 million annually.

However, North Fulton Commissioner Liz Housmann, who voted to keep the contract, said she was worried about the whole issue.

“I was concerned that the Environmental Protection Division and the North Georgia Metropolitan Planning District both had raised objections to the county doing this, what they considered to be a major amendment to the water plans,” Hausmann said.

Her motion was to postpone any action until a consensus could be reached with the government agencies and the county. She said she also felt there was a lack of public transparency to canceling the contract.

“We could have ended up with the same result, but I felt like stakeholders deserved to the public process,” she said.

Instead of the gray water to irrigate facilities like golf courses, Hausmann said the county will only have drinking water to use. In light of the recurring drought conditions, she said this was irresponsible.

“It's more expensive to create drinking water than gray water, but also drinking water for irrigation is subject to restrictions during a drought while gray water is not,” she said.

That means those golf courses could lose their green grass if forced to shut off their water sprinklers.

Supporters of ending the contract said they felt the benefits more than outweighed the negatives.

“Staff did their due diligence in making this recommendation and I have full confidence that we took the best action for Fulton County,” said Commissioner Robb Pitts. “When we look at the numbers, the decision to end the agreement and reduce water and sewer rates for our customers was an easy one.”

The Cauley Creek Plant was brought on-line over a decade ago, as a short term solution, Pitts said in an email. The opening of the Johns Creek Environmental Campus in July 2010 eliminated the need for the County’s involvement in the Cauley Creek facility.

“I had complete confidence in the soundness of staff’s recommendation,” said Pitts.

He added that the golf courses and churches that rely on the water would not be effected.

The county's finance director announced at the meeting Wednesday that, in light of the savings reaped from canceling the contract, all Fulton County water users will see a 5 percent rate cut.

Beyond the issue of using scarce drinking water for irrigation is that the EPD was vocal in their opposition to the move. While they have no power to order the county to keep the contract, there could be penalties. If the largest county in the state can go against their recommendations, what message does that send to other counties, Hausmann asked.

“If Fulton County isn’t going to comply [with the EPD] why should any other agency comply either?”