From Rivers to Sinks: The Cycle of Drinking Water

That clear, clean water you’re drinking is all because of a treatment plant that started in Athens more than a hundred years ago, and it can be found just a short drive north of Downtown Athens.

The Athens-Clarke County Water System offices and plant are located just north of Downtown Athens.

The J.G. Beacham Water Treatment Plant, located just off of Barber Street in Athens, has evolved largely from the original municipal water system implemented in Athens in the 1890s, to a state-of-the-art facility that serves 98% of the Athens-Clarke County population.

“It seems like a lot of people take [the water system] for granted,” says the operations coordinator for J.G. Beacham Water Treatment Plant, William Cottrell. “There is a lot of things that makes our plant unique and makes the water safer for drinking.”

The water treatment plant is a conventional surface water plant that essentially has a five-step process to get the locally sourced water fit to become drinking water in someone’s home. Water pulled from the county’s three main water sources, the North Oconee River, Middle Oconee River, and the Bear Creek Reservoir, go through the processes of coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, and disinfection.

Cottrell explains that all the steps taken are meant to strip away any particles and microorganisms that could be damaging to humans, including types of bacteria that are removed through the use of UV treatment and bleach.

“Since 2006, we have produced our own sodium hypochlorite (a chlorine compound) onsite.” says Cottrell. “The limit is four parts per million [of bleach in the water] which is set by the [Environmental Protection Agency].

The J.G. Beacham Water Treatment Plant offers public tours for anyone who has an interest in learning more about the facility.

Basically, by monitoring [the chemical levels] every hour, we ensure that it stays around one part per million at the plant and that leaves just a trace in the distribution system to kill off the harmful bacteria.”

The fact that this treatment plant produces its own disinfectant onsite to purify its water, along with the durability of its distribution lines and use of a UV system for purification are just some of the things that make J.G. Beacham a unique plant.

While the plant has been highly successful in maintaining the highest quality of drinking water for the community, Cottrell still stresses that people should be mindful of their conservation use of water which will cycle back through water systems eventually.

“The main thing we want people to know is they should take care of their natural resources and try not to be wasteful [with their water],” says Cottrell.



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