Towns County, Georgia: Watershed Highlights 2014

Hiawassee is away out front in water quality technology

By Tom Bennett
Special to Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition

Hiawassee, Ga., Jan. 21, 2015 – Randy Warne is operator of the city’s Water Treatment Plant and its new $679,200 freshwater intake on Lake Chatuge in the main channel of the Hiwassee River. (The name confusion alone attests to the need for cooperative watershed activity.)

In a cabinet of Warne’s main control room, he keeps for old times’ sake a plastic bag containing plank, tree and machine-part debris. These are uninvited items he had to scrape off the screened tip of the old intake.

His new facility has advanced technology in which the citizens can take pride. Aboard the little platform out in the lake reached by a catwalk, an overhead boom is there to facilitate periodic maintenance. Twin Gorman-Rupp pumps from Mansfield, Ohio draw the lake water into the plant.

While the clunky older intake was at the surface, the 12-inch pipe of the new facility is submerged 16 feet. Capping it all, so to speak, is a screened tip at the working end featuring an airburst cleaning system, Warne said. Bursts of air clean the screen of debris. So Warne is going to have a lot less lake debris to scrape away and keep in that trash bag in the control room.

Intakes are intakes and a lot of dirt cleanup work lies ahead in big concrete vats inside the plant. “In the upload clarifier, the aluminum sulfate is the chemical we put in, and with it there are little beads that take the dirt out of the water,” Warne told me. “The second stage is the filter that polishes the water and catches everything the first one doesn’t. In that second one, we use sand and anthracite, and we add chlorine to it, and soda ash that adjusts the pH of the water.”

Dirt in a lake – how much is the legacy of careless developers whose heavy equipment tore away the topsoil on the slopes above? Eroding stream and shoreline banks are another culprit.

Meanwhile, Mayor Barbara Mathis, City Manager Rick Stancil and Warne hope the increased depth will skirt algae forming now and then on the lake surface, causing serious taste and odor problems.

Warne said: “If the lake has algae, you can’t put anything in to stop it; the lake’s too big. You have to bring the algae in here (meaning his treatment plant). Then we pump in potassium permanganate, an oxidizer. That causes its own problems because it stains everything (in the water-treatment works) with black crystals. So then you have to stop and clean everything and that takes eight people and two days’ work.”

If only the citizens enjoying showers with water from the system’s storage tanks in two states knew the intense oversight by city, Towns County, and Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition’s Callie Moore.

HRWC’s 2007 action plan calls for “reduction of nitrogen and phosphorus loading to Lake Chatuge” to reduce concentrations of algae over time, reducing the need for such extreme drinking water treatment measures.

One of the three major sources of these nutrients is the city of Hiawassee’s WASTEWATER treatment plant.” Towns County’s sole commissioner, Bill Kendall, has earmarked $150,000 from county funds for this purpose. City of Hiawassee has added $25,000 of its own.

In December 2014, Moore and TVA’s David Brewster studied an aquatic invasive vine suspected to be Hydrilla. Instead, they concluded it is Brazilian Elodea. Neither’s a bargain and controlling the spread is the key.

The power grid of the eastern United States has no perfect record of operation, and Warne makes sure the water treatment plant has plenty of generator redundancy. He installed sophisticated technology during a tricky time of reduced lake depth. TVA at Chatuge Dam lowered several feet for N.C. Dept. of Transportation to rebuild a bridge at Shooting Creek. All the while, Warne conveyed confidence and unflappability.

Tom Bennett of the Martins Creek community near Murphy, N.C., is a retired newsman, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition member/volunteer/donor and recipient of the 2015 Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award. E-mail him at