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Crisis averted: Repairs complete at Dahlonega water plant
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Dahlonega Mayor Gary McCullough talks about how the town coped with its water crisis.

After running at half capacity for almost two weeks, Dahlonega’s water treatment plant was back to full strength Thursday afternoon.

"We started running the new filter at 2:30 p.m. today," said plant operator Randy Price. "As of right now, everything looks good."

The city’s water plant had been partially shut down since Aug. 29, when one of its two filters suddenly collapsed. The plant still could operate on a single filter, but to conserve water, the system’s 2,700 customers were placed under a total outdoor watering ban.

Even with conservation, the city could have been in danger of running out of water if a disaster, such as a large fire or a water main break, had occurred.

Initially, city officials thought replacing the filter might take as long as a month. But they were able to find the necessary parts much quicker than expected.

By Wednesday, workers had installed a new concrete chamber that filters water down through layers of coal, sand and gravel.

But the city had to wait for results of water quality tests before they could turn that part of the plant back on.

Dahlonega Mayor Gary McCullough said the laboratory called at around 2 p.m. with the verdict: The water was clean.

He said even though the plant is now fully operational, the city won’t lift the watering ban immediately.

"We’ll probably take off the ban on Monday, after we see how well the filter is working," he said.

Both of the plant’s filters were built back in 1975. There’s no evidence that the second filter is about to collapse, but the city wants to replace that one as well, just to be safe.

"We’re ordering parts for the second filter now, and we hope we can wait (to install the replacement) until the college (North Georgia College & State University) closes for Christmas in December," McCullough said.

But he said if the second filter fails sooner than that, the city will have the new parts on hand and would be able to make repairs in just a couple of days.

Dahlonega is building a brand-new water plant that will feature an innovative membrane filter, but it won’t be ready until 2010.

McCullough said he appreciates the efforts of residents, businesses and NGCSU, who all took steps to conserve water during the shortage.

"People really did what we asked them to do," he said. "Our water usage went down, so that made it much better."

With about 5,500 students, the university is the system’s biggest water customer. NGCSU spokeswoman Kate Maine said the administration had asked students to voluntarily take shorter showers, and the dining hall switched to paper plates to avoid having to wash dishes.

Maine said there was no way to gauge whether students actually cut back on their shower time.

"But we have a pretty environmentally conscious group of students, being up here in the mountains, so I think probably a lot of them did comply," she said.

Maine said it was a relief to learn that the city’s water supply was no longer in jeopardy.

"That’s good news," she said.