Jackson County and Gainesville are close to finalizing the details for a plan that would provide an emergency water source for both, according to officials with the two utilities.
Eric Klerk, manager of the Jackson County Water and Sewer Authority, said that the plan would have the two utilities connect their water lines off Ga. 60 near the Hall-Jackson county line.
Jackson County and Gainesville officials have been discussing the plan for about two months, Klerk said. The entire process has moved very quickly, he said.
"For two governments to get together and do this is pretty great," Klerk said. "The cooperation has been great."
When the two utilities finalize the agreement, Gainesville Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall said he will take it to the City Council for approval. Klerk said he has had indications from the Jackson County Board of Commissioners that it would approve the plan.
Klerk said the Environmental Protection Division already had approved a previous design plan that would have entailed only Jackson County purchasing emergency water from Gainesville. A revised design plan to allow water to flow both ways is pending approval from the EPD.
Klerk said the agreement outlines that Gainesville would pay standard residential rates for any water it purchases from Jackson County. Jackson would be charged the rate paid by water customers living outside of Gainesville city limits.
If all three entities give the plan the thumbs up, Klerk said he hopes construction could start by February at a cost of about $100,000. He said Gainesville will waive the $86,000 connection fee because the utility also would be able to get water from Jackson County once the connection is made.
Klerk said he’s been told work to connect water lines from the two systems — which are only about 75 feet apart — should take only about two weeks. The agreement is for 1.5 million gallons of water per day, but Randall does not anticipate that much water running through the lines every day.
"I think that’s a worst-case scenario for them," Randall said. "I think they think they can survive off a couple hundred thousand gallons a day."
Klerk confirmed that Jackson County’s plan is only to buy water from Gainesville in an emergency, not daily.
"It’s going to be on an as-needed basis," he said.
EPD has indicated that it will allow Gainesville to exceed its recently reduced withdrawal permit for the water it may sell to Jackson County, but nothing is official yet.
"Those details still need to be worked out," Randall said.
Gainesville officials have, on more than one occasion, touted that the city’s water supply was in better shape than any other municipality in the region. Randall attributes the bountiful water supply to city officials’ forward thinking. In order to make sure Gainesville always has a good water supply, they must continue looking ahead.
"We are (in good shape) today, but we are today because we look to the future," Randall said. "We don’t know what situation will arise in the future so we want to be prepared for any event."
Part of that forward thinking is making sure the city has as many "Plan Bs" as it can get.
"One thing this drought is showing us is that we need to have as many backups as possible."
Gainesville public utilities already has an interconnection with Gwinnett and White County.
"I really think that all the utilities ought to be interconnected," Randall said. "Any interconnections that we can have around the system will work to everybody’s benefit. ... If all the systems were tied together, you could conceivably one day pass water to Demorest from Gwinnett County or vice versa."
Klerk said that Jackson County, which uses the Bear Creek Reservoir as its main water source, also is connected to the city of Commerce’s water supply as a secondary water source.