Clean water project on tap for Walker County

The Walker County Board of Commissioners will consider a request at its next meeting to invest in a multi-million dollar project to produce clean drinking water for the county, supply water to underserved and unserved rural communities and create economic development opportunities.

The Walker County Water and Sewerage Authority recently developed a $45 million water and sewer system improvement plan. It would fund the construction of a new water treatment plant, a distribution network to supply water throughout the county, along with a system to redirect sewer from the north end of the county to the authority sewer treatment plant in Chickamauga, where it can be treated more economically than in Chattanooga.

The water authority has asked Walker County government invest $5 million into the improvement plan, since 50,000 Walker County residents will benefit from the enhancements.

County leaders will discuss whether to use American Rescue Plan Act funds, which Congress has encouraged local governments to spend on water, sewer and broadband infrastructure, on this project.

Construction on a new water treatment plant is estimated to cost $11.4 million, while redirecting sewer to Chickamauga will be a $9 million venture.

The bulk of the improvement plan centers around installing new water mains to distribute clean, safe and healthy drinking water throughout the county and constructing additional storage tanks throughout the distribution network.

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Along with improving water quality and water pressure for existing customers, the plan would improve fire protection throughout the county. It would also aid residents in the High community near Girl Scout Camp Adahi, who do not have access to a reliable drinking water source and have asked the county for help addressing public health concerns associated with failing private wells. In addition, the improvement plan would support regional economic growth opportunities at the McLemore development on Lookout Mountain.

Several significant hardships prompted the water authority to carefully study and plan for the future. In 2017, Georgia EPD found one of Walker County’s groundwater sources contaminated with E. coli and required water from this source to be filtered before being distributed to customers.

The authority currently spends $700,000 a year to rent two mobile filtration units to keep filtered water flowing. The water authority has also had to absorb astronomical sewer treatment fees charged by Chattanooga, following a federal consent decree impacting the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Along with the request to partner with Walker County on the improvement plan, the authority will supply $20 million in project funding and will be seeking an additional $20 million in ARPA funds from the state to help pay for these projects.