Last September, Villa Rica City Manager Tom Barber announced what he called “the Independence Project,” by which the city would eventually become fully self-reliant on its own water supply.
The city this month took its first major step in that direction, approving engineering work to precede a $3.5 million upgrade of its water treatment plant.
But many problems must be solved between now and 2020, which is the earliest date the upgraded plant is expected to be online. Those problems seem to stem from one source: confusion over how the city’s water system works for a city that has grown in population from 4,000 in the 1960s to 15,000 now, and expected to exceed 20,000 in the near future.
This is the second of a two-part series. Part 1 was published in the April 12 issue of the Times-Georgian.
The upgrade to Villa Rica’s water treatment plant project was the big-ticket item on the City Council’s April 3 agenda, but it wasn’t the only item that dealt with City Manager Tom Barber’s “independence project.”
The council also voted to fund a $14,000 project to get a handle on a network of pressure reducing valves (PRVs) that encircle the downtown area. This is necessary, Public Works Director Pete Zorbanos explained because current city staff can’t figure out how that network is set up.
They don’t even know where all those PVRs are. Records indicate that there are at least 17 of these devices, but city crews have only identified six. They have been trying to locate the other 11, which were installed and set by other city staff years ago.
“If you’ve ever seen the movie “Holes,” that’s what the city looks like now,” Barber said at the April 3 council meeting.
Water in the city’s main lines is at high pressure; too high for the smaller pipes inside homes to handle. Pressure reducing valves, as the name implies, reduce that pressure for domestic use.
Zorbanos told the council he believes the PVR network was set up to protect the old pipes in the downtown area, but some of the devices are shut and others are wide open.
“I don’t know who did that, or why they would have done that,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of mysteries like that out there.”
The project the council funded is aimed at locating all the PVRs in the city’s system, so their location can be properly recorded, and then training city staff on how the devices should be maintained and operated.
“We want to be self-sufficient,” Zorbanos told the council. “We want our in-house people to be able to take care of our own.”
Servicing new growth
The “dreadful” situation that Barber described at the council work session is illustrated by a third project the council authorized, the evaluation of sewer lift stations.
The city operates 31 lift stations, which pump wastewater or sewage from lower to higher elevations wherever gravity cannot aid that process. Lift stations serve commercial and residential development around the city, and their size and capacity are linked to how much development the city’s infrastructure can support.
But, as with the PVR network downtown, city staffers have lost the institutional knowledge of how much work the city’s lift stations can handle.
Barber told the council that as things stand, there is at least one new development being planned that he is unsure that the city can service. And, since Villa Rica is among the fastest-growing cities in the state, that creates a nightmare scenario.
“Failure to move ahead with this examination will have many negative consequences,” according to the city’s written request for the project. “The most significant might be that we will continue to be uncertain if we can support the new construction that is being proposed throughout the city.”
The $81,251 project that the council approved is designed to identify specific problems at each lift station and develop plans to replace undersized pumps, install missing lines, expand capacity or solve other issues. There is no money in the budget for the project, so the city staff’s request says it will be funded with new water and sewer tap fees – in other words, money from the city’s growth.
Self-reliance, or independence, means doing things on one’s own. But that ability can be compromised over the lifetime of a city, as new generations of administration and employees come and go. Unless there is inter-generational communication, the rationale for why one staff did certain things can be lost. The net effect is that money must be spent to recover that lost knowledge.
The reasoning behind the several projects approved this month by the council is for the current generation of city workers to understand what their predecessors have done, and to pass that knowledge on to those who will come after.
“In just a few years, the city runs the risk of doing this all over again,” Barber told the council, “To your great injury, financially.”