COVINGTON - Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue visited the General Mills plant in Covington on Wednesday to recognize a unique public-private partnership that resulted in the company conserving millions of gallons of water each month.
Perdue toured the plant's water treatment facility that allows General Mills to reuse wastewater from its food processing operations. Plant officials said the treatment facility has cut its overall water consumption nearly in half, by 5.3 million gallons per month.
The treatment facility was built by cereal-maker General Mills with backing from the Newton County Industrial Development Authority and in cooperation with the city of Covington, the plant's wastewater service provider.
The treatment facility is located at the General Mills plant but leased to the city of Covington for the life of the bond debt. General Mills benefits from not having to pay taxes on the facility and by reducing its cost for water treatment to the city.
After the bond is paid off, the facility reverts to General Mills, according to Frank Turner Sr., who was Covington's city manager during the initial discussions with plant officials.
The governor touted the company as an example of water conservation in the private sector, something that the state government has encouraged during two years of drought conditions.
"This is one of the best examples of something we talk a lot about, but not many people do it as well as it's been done here," Perdue said.
"Think about the challenge," he continued. "We all know about what happened last year with the drought in Georgia, and frankly, we're still not out of the woods from the drought perspective in our largest reservoir. We're enjoying the rain today and hope we get more, but we can do better."
The treatment facility was brought online by General Mills in August 2006 and recovers the plant's food processing wastewater, which is then treated and reused.
Company officials said the water is used only for non-food-contact applications, such as cleaning and cooling. However, the treated water is purified enough to be used for any application, including food processing, should the plant choose.
The high quality of the water was proven by Perdue, who drank a sample of the reclaimed water with company officials during the tour of the plant, according to plant manager Mike Bible.
Perdue toured the plant and treatment facility with local civic leaders, including Covington Mayor Kim Carter, state Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle, and state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle.
Plant officials restricted press access to the treatment facility, despite the fact that it was financed by publicly backed bonds. Maerenn Ball, a spokeswoman at General Mills' corporate office in Minneapolis, Minn., said confusion on the part of General Mills officials at the plant kept some members of the media from attending the governor's tour, while others were allowed access.
Jay Jones can be reached at email@example.com.