Bear Creek key to water usage

Photo by Joel Claes

Photo by Joel Claes

COVINGTON -- Newton County is in good shape, water-wise, and demand will be met through 2050, so long as the Bear Creek Reservoir is up and running, according to a draft version of a new regional water plan.

The plan, crafted by the Middle Ocmulgee Regional Water Council at the state's behest, states that the Bear Creek Reservoir will need to be in operation at least by the year 2040 to meet water demands of the county's population. That's based on a population estimate of 371,631 by 2050.

The county has a total permitted water supply of 32.9 million gallons per day. It will need to produce 50 million gallons per day by the year 2050, leaving about a 17 million gallon deficit per day as things currently stand.

"The good news is the entire region showed no water supply shortages to the year 2050. With that said, that conclusion was contingent on Newton County meeting its projected deficit via Bear Creek Reservoir," said Larry McSwain, a Newton County resident and member of the Middle Ocmulgee Regional Water Council.

Newton County will also need additional wastewater treatment capacity at least by 2030, according to the plan.

McSwain said the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority assisted in providing information, and local officials' long-range plans were also considered.

"Many (counties) didn't have independent estimates of that and they'll have to rely on whatever the state says. Newton County had more influence on the projections as a result of having done very good local planning," he said.

The Georgia Legislature established 10 regions across the state for water planning purposes, and Newton is one of 12 counties in the Middle Ocmulgee Council. The council has been meeting for two years to assess all resources, needs and gaps between supply and demand in the region through 2050.

"If there's any issue of concern in this region it's that we do have a fairly significant portion of our streams impaired, meaning they don't meet water quality standards for their current designated use," McSwain said.

About 46 percent of streams in the region fall into that category, largely due to polluted stormwater runoff, he said. "Our plan will have to address some of those problems and try to get water quality conditions improved in those streams."

The draft version of the plan will be submitted to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division by May 9, after which it will be available for public inspection and comment for 45 days on www.georgiawaterplanning.org. A final version of the plan is set to be approved in September.