From the very beginning, Fulton County’s decision to end its contract with the Cauley Creek Water Reclamation Facility has raised a number of red flags.
It has not dealt in good faith with its Cauley Creek partners who are getting the boot when Cauley Creek is just beginning to make a return on its investment. It has not dealt in good faith with the reuse irrigation customers who depend on Cauley Creek.
It has not dealt in good faith with the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District that is charged with developing a comprehensive regional water resources plan for the 15-county membership in the metro Atlanta region.
It has not dealt in good faith with the state Environmental Protection Division, which opposed the severing of the Cauley Creek contract.
And finally, it has not dealt in good faith with the ratepayers of the Fulton County Water Services, the enterprise fund that must pay up if all of this goes terribly wrong.
It began in June when the Fulton County Commission tried to slide the Cauley Creek severance under the table by putting the action on the commission’s June consent agenda. Items on the consent agenda are deemed “routine in nature,” and are passed by consent en masse.
There is nothing routine about effectively closing the largest water reuse facility in the state. In the 10 years of operation at Cauley Creek Water Reuse Facility, it has kept 7 billion gallons of Chattahoochee River water in the river by reusing treated waste water to irrigate North Fulton golf courses and other big users of irrigation water.
Fulton officials claim they will eventually save the ratepayers $6 million annually. But they have not shown any of the entities above exactly how they will do this.
They will owe Cauley Creek and its bond holders $13 million right off the bat. But the real question that needs to be asked is whether it is even worth it if the money is on the table as they claimed.
Fulton County seems to have an extremely short memory, for instance why Cauley Creek was built as a public-private partnership in the first place. Fulton County had dithered when it knew for years that the county’s sewer capacity was running out in North Fulton.
Cauley Creek WRF came into being because it would reuse the water and allow several of the big golf courses to suspend withdrawing water from the Chattahoochee. Instead, they would use Cauley Creek’s gray water using state-of-the-art membrane technology so that it was in effect cleaner as irrigation water than it was when it was first withdrawn from the river.
That is what Cauley Creek does. It withdraws water once and uses it twice. This made the federal judge who had the county’s water use policy under the gun and the EPD who wanted a dirty river cleaned up happy.
Now, they want to replace all of Cauley Creek’s hard work to clean up the river, save capacity and act as a beacon for water reuse. The last bit is to remind the mindless Fulton County that Georgia is still in a tri-state battle over withdrawal rights to the Chattahoochee. Whose side are they on, Alabama and Florida? You can bet the lawyers for those states are amending their briefs and salivating as they do.
And what will they replace Cauley Creek’s gray water with? Why, with treated drinking water. Cauley Creek charges $0.65 per thousand gallons. The county charges $3.02 per thousand gallons for potable water. That’s OK, Fulton says, we’ll just charge irrigation customers at the lower rate.
But the North Metro Water Planning District reminded Fulton County in a letter Sept. 5 that this would not be “in compliance with the MNGWPD model irrigation pricing ordinance that requires a separate irrigation meter and a rate of no less than 200 percent of the regular water rates.”
The North Metro Planning District also pointed out using potable water puts the current reuse customers subject to the same water restrictions as other customers during drought conditions.
Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, the river’s environmental watchdog, has weighed in to say first it firmly supports Cauley Creek’s water reuse as a conservation measure. But perhaps as important is Cauley Creek’s phosphorous limit in its discharge permit, which is 0.13 milligrams per liter (mgl). Riverkeeper Executive Director Sally Bethea points out that the county’s Johns Creek Environmental Campus discharge permit is 0.3 mgl, or three times the phosphorous discharge of Cauley Creek.
Eliminating the 5 million gallons a day Cauley Creek treats at a third of the phosphorous levels at time when everyone is struggling to reduce the harmful elements we re-introduce into the river is shortsighted and runs counter to all public policy as well as common sense.
I could go on with the objections to what is a rash act on Fulton County’s part. But what I cannot fathom is the county’s rush to do this now, despite pleas from every corner to at least sit and show why this is a good idea. But the majority of the Fulton County Commission is unmoved by all of these objections as well as requests to sit down and discuss this.
And then they wonder why North Fulton would so desperately want to a Milton County. Or is it just another way to tweak North Fulton’s nose for ever asking?