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Gainesville has a backup for water, if needed
James Stuart, assistant plant manager at the Lakeside Water Treatment Plant in Flowery Branch, describes the filtration process. If any problems occurred, the Lakeside plant would be able to rely on the Riverside Water Treatment Plant to provide water for customers. - photo by SARA GUEVARA
Gainesville water officials say that the city’s water system would be able to survive a situation like the one Dahlonega currently faces after one of its water filters collapsed without warning last week.

Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall said Gainesville’s water system, which has two water plants and redundant filtration systems, has room for error.

The city’s Lakeside Water Treatment Plant in Flowery Branch has three filters that can each filter 5 million gallons of water through anthracite and sand per day, but the plant only has a permit to treat 10 million gallons per day.

When plant operators at Lakeside need to perform maintenance on any one of the plant’s filters, the other two filters can carry the weight of the water treatment plant, Randall said.

The utility’s Riverside Water Treatment Plant in northern Gainesville has five filters that, together, can treat up to 25 million gallons of water per day, but last month, the plant did not send more than about 12 million gallons of water to its customers in one day.

Since Gainesville has two water treatment plants, one can carry the weight of both should anything go wrong, Randall said.

Nearly two weeks ago, the utility was able to test that theory.

When Gainesville and surrounding areas received large amounts of rainfall from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fay, the water coming into the Riverside plant, which is closer to the Chattahoochee River, was a lot dirtier than normal.

Randall said that instead of using more chemicals to treat the water, the department stopped production at Riverside for a short period of time, and relied on the Lakeside facility until the lake’s water quality improved near the Riverside intakes.

"Since we’ve got two plants, and since we’ve got redundant filters, we could shift water production to the other plant (if something were to go wrong in another plant)," Randall said.

The circumstances might be different, however, if the city utility only had one water treatment plant like Dahlonega, Randall said.

Last Friday, when an old filter collapsed at Dahlonega’s sole water treatment plant, the city’s capacity of 1.5 million gallons per day was cut in half with no absolute time frame for restoration.

While the city’s water works awaits the necessary parts to fix the filter, Dahlonega has imposed a total outdoor watering ban and asked its largest users, North Georgia College and State University and the local bearing plant Timpken, to conserve as much as possible.

A major water main break, a large fire or the failure of the second filter, could put the city’s drinking water supply in major jeopardy until the filter is fixed, and officials say they may only have to hold their breath until mid-week, but call that "an optimistic target date."

If another emergency puts the water system in jeopardy, there are about two days’ worth of water in the Dahlonega system’s reserve tanks.

But Gainesville water customers will not likely face such an emergency, Randall said.

"Gainesville’s very lucky in that we have two plants," Randall said.