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Gainesville to mail out water quality reports
Gainesville Water Works class 3 operator James Hilton opens a water sample and prepares it for testing on Thursday afternoon. Gainesville Public Utilities is in the process of mailing out its annual water quality report to its 45,000 customers. The water quality report will show if the city's water contains excess pollutants. - photo by Michael Phillips


Listen as Horace Gee describes how Gainesville Public Utilities tests residential pipes for lead and copper.

Gainesville water customers will be getting something extra with their bill this month.

The city has begun mailing out copies of the 2008 Water Quality Report to almost 45,000 customers who draw water from the Gainesville system.

Georgia law requires all municipal water systems to release a quality report each year. Small towns may simply publish a notice in their local newspaper. But Gainesville Environmental Services administrator Horace Gee said systems with more than 10,000 customers have to send out copies of the report.

Gee said it’s hard to know how many people actually read the document, but he thinks many customers do care about what’s in their drinking water.

"We don’t get as many calls about the report as we used to, but I think that’s because by now people understand what it’s all about," he said.

The mailed version is English-only, but a Spanish version is available at the Public Utilities Department.

"Many of our Hispanic customers come into the office anyway, because they pay their bills in cash," he said.

The report lists various types of contaminants, gives the maximum acceptable level of that pollutant and indicates how Gainesville’s water tested in 2007.

As usual, the city’s water was well within the acceptable range for all contaminants, including coliform bacteria, chlorine, fluoride, and nitrates/nitrites.

"Our water quality has remained pretty consistent from year to year," said Bill Wilson, manager of the Riverside water treatment plant in Gainesville.

Wilson said the Riverside plant samples its treated water around the clock, testing some of it at the in-house laboratory and some at the city’s Flat Creek lab. Samples also are sent several times a month to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Gee said the last time the city’s water had an exceedance on any pollutant was for turbidity (cloudiness in the water) several years ago.

"We always do well in most parameters," Gee said. "We have in the past had some exceedances of lead and copper, but that’s due to (residential) plumbing, not to the water we’re delivering to customers."

He said about 300 families who live in older homes voluntarily sample their tap water so the city can get an idea of where pipes might be leaching copper and lead.

As for the water testing that’s performed at the treatment plants, Gee said Lake Lanier’s lower levels haven’t really affected the results.

In fact, many of the "contaminants" listed in the report are actually by-products of the chlorination process and weren’t in the water when it was drawn from the lake.

But Gee said adding chlorine is necessary to kill any bacteria or other organic material in the water.

The main water quality issue that Lanier does have is one that isn’t addressed in the report. Gee said every spring, the lake "turns over," as a layer of water from the bottom rises to the surface.

"We’ll get maybe 50 or 60 calls from people complaining that the water smells odd or just tastes stale," he said. "We have to kick up the dose of chlorine for a while."

But Gee said the phenomenon is harmless, and people should have no qualms about drinking what comes out of their tap.

"I think customers can be pretty proud of the quality of the city’s water," he said.

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