Grow with the flow: $12 million boost to Macon Water Authority industrial capacity

New pump, water lines, tank to supply Irving Tissue, Kumho Tire and future growth near Middle Georgia Regional Airport


Liz Fabian

Crews work off Houston Road on the Macon Water Authority’s new $5.5 million pump station to serve industries in the south end of Bibb County.

Without an abundant water supply, Macon-Bibb County would come up high and dry when recruiting new industries.

“It’s a vital part of the site selection process,” said Stephen Adams, executive director of the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority. “We like to show off our assets here. It pushes us out in front of a lot of communities our size and larger.”

Currently, the Macon Water Authority has $12 million worth of projects underway to boost the water supply in the industry-rich southern regions of the county.

Crews are constructing a $5.5 million pump station off Houston Road at Twin Wells Road, which is not far from Ga. Hwy. 247, or Hawkinsville Road.

A new 20-inch water line will run 8,150 linear feet from the pumps to Irving Tissue in the Sofkee Industrial Park. The $470 million plant, which opened in 2019, outgrew its 700,000-square-foot property and is doubling its capacity with another $400 million investment.

The company’s water usage also is expected to jump to about 2 million gallons per day from 1 million.

Acting executive director of the Macon Water Authority, Ray Shell, said the expansion of Irving and neighboring Kumho Tire led to the new water lines and pump station.

“This is to answer the demand for Phase 2,” Shell said in an interview with the Center for Collaborative Journalism. “That is the focus on these projects.”

The Houston Road pump station also will feed a 24-inch water main to Jones Road and the Interstate 75 Industrial Park between Hartley Bridge and Sardis Church roads.

That water will supply the elevated tank that’s visible from the highway.

The new pump station also will increase the water pressure and supply near the Middle Georgia Regional Airport.

Brightmark is spending $680 million to build a 5.3 million-square-foot site recycling and renewal center for plastics on more than 100 acres just north of the airport.

“They’re going to use like a half-million (gallons) a day,” Shell said. “We have to think about this stuff.”

Looking into a ‘crystal ball’

The water authority has been thinking and studying its capacity for quite some time.

About five years ago, they commissioned a water master plan to project the needs of the community over the next two decades.

“It’s kind of like a crystal ball,” Shell said of projecting future land use. “What we do determines what ends up being built and the possibilities for the land.”

The study included computer modeling, projected population growth and expected land use for 20 years. That information helps the authority balance the cost of these major improvements with its expected new customer base and resulting revenue.

“It was money well spent because we couldn’t have gotten Irving without it,” Shell said. “We had to prove to them we could serve their water needs.”

When the Canada-based company was considering Macon as its second location in the United States, Shell and other MWA professionals flew to Fort Edward, NY, to tour the company’s plant along the Hudson River. That visit showed the authority the extent of Irving’s water needs.

“I’d say the Macon Water Authority’s available, abundant water quality services are a major driver in the industry locations and expansions,” Adams said.

New water tank provides backup

As severe drought grips California and large population centers such as Atlanta thirst for more water resources, Macon sits pretty with its 5.8 billion-gallon-reservoir. It also can draw between 35 and 110 million gallons a day from the Ocmulgee River.

The authority not only captures and protects that supply, but it also maintains an intricate series of pumps, pipes and tanks to make sure the water gets to where it’s needed.

The reservoir, Javors Lucas Lake, and the Frank C. Amerson Jr. Water Treatment Plant were built after the Great Flood of ’94 overtook the authority’s plant off Pierce Avenue and cut off most of the county’s water for nearly three weeks.

Contingency planning has been a crucial function for the authority ever since.

To provide backup in an emergency or when the water treatment system needs maintenance, the authority is constructing a $9.7 million, 3 million-gallon-water tank on the site of the old Atlantic Cotton Mill that burned down in 2011.

Irving Tissue is doubling the size of its plant in the Sofkee Industrial Park in south Macon-Bibb County. (Liz Fabian)

“(The tank) was driven by this need for this water with Irving, but we really needed the thing anyway,” Shell said.

Under the present system, water is pumped from the reservoir on the northeast side all the way out to near the airport near the south end of the county.

“At least one of those high-service pumps had to be running all the time,” Shell said. “If that building went down or the power system failed, we wouldn’t have the core of the water system.”

Faced with building a water tank or a second treatment plant, the authority chose the now vacant land behind the old Kroger on Pio Nono Avenue to put the tank.

Plans were already underway to create apartments in those old brick buildings destroyed by the intense flames. Other sites with appropriate elevation would have involved private property condemnation, Shell said.

Once the tank is complete, the authority will have two ponds to collect the water tank overflow. The property will become a new greenspace adjacent to Oak Haven Park.

The authority set aside $35K for the Vineville neighborhood park near English Avenue.

“We just foresee this new push of revitalization in that area to bring industry or bring back a lot of old abandoned mills and factories,” said Lisa Golphin, the authority’s senior executive of strategic planning. “We’re giving back to the community where they’ll be able to sit and have a park area.”

The tank is expected to be complete by the end of April.

The authority also recently allocated $70K for 1500 linear feet of 8-inch water lines to increase fire protection with hydrants along Barnes Road on the south side.

“We have a relationship with the fire department,” Shell said. “When they come to us we do everything we can to accommodate them. That’s our obligation to the community.”

The authority is balancing these new projects on the heels of one its largest capital improvement projects – the $51 million rehabilitation of the county’s wastewater treatment plants at Lower Poplar and Rocky Creek.

On Jan. 1, they also assumed responsibility for the county’s stormwater management without charging fees for the first year. Although they are expecting a loss of about $3 million this year, the water and sewer side of the operation will initially make up for the loss. The water and sewer side of the operation will be reimbursed once customers start paying stormwater fees next year.

Nearly $31 million in additional projects

The authority also is applying for local and state funds through the American Rescue Plan Act for COVID-19 relief.

Guy Boyle, the authority’s executive vice president of business operations, is seeking $28 million in Georgia’s ARPA allocation for new Rocky Creek sewer lines and the Riverside Basin Sewer Project to rehab older concrete lines around Corbin Avenue.

From the county, Boyle is applying for $2.9 million of ARPA funds to replace service lines for the old stormwater features at Henderson Stadium, replace old galvanized pipes and build a new stormwater culvert on Guerry Drive.

The authority is juggling multiple capital projects while once again earning an award for the best tasting drinking water in its district. In 2009, Macon’s water was judged the best tasting in all of North America.

“That says a lot about the management and the vision and the professionals we have,” Golphin said. “We have award-winning professionals consistently winning awards.”

Civic Journalism Senior Fellow Liz Fabian covers Macon-Bibb County government entities and can be reached at [email protected] and 478-301-2976.M