Covington to upgrade water pipes

COVINGTON -- The city of Covington is planning upgrades to aging water lines. The City Council has agreed to apply for a loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority for up to $6 million to replace aging and transite, or asbestos-cement, lines.

The city has more than 27 miles of lines that need replacing, according to grant writer Randy Conner. If the loan is approved, along with $1.5 million in the city's reserve water fund, 21 to 22 miles could be replaced, he said.

"When you hear the term asbestos, people get very upset and very concerned," Conner said, but added that material was used in water lines in the 1900s to make the pipes stronger and last longer. Asbestos pipes were phased out in the 1980s. The system is tested regularly and no problems have been identified, he said, "but we want to be proactive as opposed to reactive and replace this while everything is still good."

Conner said citizens may not know that the city has a number of water lines that are more than 100 years old and are continually leaking and breaking.

Conner said the percentage of water from which the city is not earning revenue is at almost 20 percent, and should be between 10 to 12 percent. Not all of that has been lost: Some will be billed out to customers next month, he said; while some is due to lines flushed by the fire department. But probably 5 to 7 percent is likely due to leakage and breakage in lines, he said.

The city has purchased 187.3 gallons of water that has not been billed, at a loss of $372,000, he said.

"We feel like this is the right time to make an aggressive move to eliminate these problems now," Conner said, adding that the loan will carry a .82 percent interest rate and 20-year amortization, saving the city more than $650,000. The low rate is obtainable because the county and city have been designated as a WaterFirst Community.

"When citizens hear we're borrowing that much money their first thought is what's that going to do to water and sewer rates. We will not borrow an amount to exceed the amount that would cause us to have to raise water and sewer rates," he said. Debt service of 1.05 percent would trigger a rate increase, he said.

The loan and additional money from the reserve fund -- a total of $7.5 million -- wouldn't cover all the work that needs to be done. There will still be pipes along U.S. Hwy. 278, for example, that are transite, Conner said. But the Georgia Department of Transportation has road projects planned and it would be senseless for the city to replace those pipes now only to have to move them in a year or two, he said.

There are also transite pipes on Puckett Street and the city will be applying for a Community Development Block Grant through the Department of Community Affairs in April to get funding for replacement of those, he said.