The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) awarded the city of Valdosta with $36.8 million in low-interest financing to help the city resolve wastewater system and treatment issues. The city was experiencing widespread water quality problems in the aftermath of heavy rain events.
Services like drinking water and wastewater treatment are everyday things that many people take for granted. But water and sewer infrastructure is critical for communities to operate, serve its citizens, facilitate economic development, accommodate population growth, and safeguard public health.
In the spring of 2009, the city of Valdosta, located in south Georgia, was hit by a catastrophic flood that left portions of its largest wastewater treatment plant under water. Major portions of the plant and the wastewater collection system were damaged to the point of being inoperable. Larry Hanson, Valdosta’s city manager, along with staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to get the system back operational.
"Well in 2009, we were ultimately hit with a presidential disaster flood as well as declared a disaster by the governor of the state of Georgia and our plant, which is located half-a-mile from the Withlacoochee River, was actually overtaken by the water of the Withlacoochee," said Hanson.
The city realized the treatment plant would need to be relocated. Portions of the collection system would need to be moved from low-lying areas, including new pump stations and a new forcemain to transport wastewater to the new treatment site.
"So we actually went out and acquired a piece of property, it’s only about half-a-mile away from the plant, but it’s a 60 foot higher elevation and it’s outside of the 500-year flood plain so we could sorta of still take advantage of most of our collection system, take advantage of the outfall that takes the discharge into the river after it has been treated, and yet get out of any risk of flood," said Hanson.
Due to the severity of the situation, the city of Valdosta decided to use a design-build process for the construction of the new treatment plant.
"So a design-build would allow us to meet the need in the fastest possible way. It really brings you together working as a team. Traditionally, you design a project and then you bid that project and a contractor gets it and he builds it so it’s sort of three steps that are not necessarily connected to one another. Design-build brings it all together at the very beginning," said Hanson.
The city combined funds from a special purpose local option sales tax, or SPLOST for short, with a low-interest loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority to fund this $60 million project.
"I think that what this did do is really help our citizens understand the importance of public utilities, the importance of having good clean safe drinking water, the importance of having wastewater and not only the importance of meeting the present need, but we designed and built these facilities for the future," said Hanson.
Henry Hicks, Valdosta’s former utilities director, reports that with the completion of the new plant and forcemain project the city has greatly reduced its risk during regional flooding and heavy rain events.
"We have had heavy flooding in the river and we have had heavy rain, but this plant has come through and it’s, actually this plant has more capacity than the original plant. We tested that in the last big rain event that we had. We had actually about 24 million gallons coming into the plant. The plant is designed for an average daily flow of about 12 million gallons a day. Peak capacity day is 18 million. Maximum capacity hour is 24, and the peak flow capacity is 32 million," said Hicks.
The new plant and forcemain project solved and immediate need and demonstrated a significant investment in infrastructure for future growth.
"Well as I have said, this investment not only solved and immediate need but it’s prepared us for the future. So now as the economy is starting to pick up and we are having prospects looking at us again, in fact we have an industry that is looking to make an announcement this fall to expand and it’s nice to know that we have the available water capacity and we have the available wastewater treatment capacity. Not only do we have the capacity we have the quality. And building a state of the art treatment plant," said Hanson.
Through this project, the city of Valdosta has shown its commitment to its citizens, the environment, and future generations.