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Fayette negotiates lesser penalties for water system failures

State environmental regulators have downgraded six of the 10 drinking water rule violations Fayette County was slapped with early this summer, county officials have said.

In the meantime, the county is also having its entire water system staff retrained on their various duties in upcoming weeks in an effort to instill public confidence in the system, said County Administrator Steve Rapson.

The rule violations and a laundry list of deficiencies were discovered during a June review of the county’s water system that ultimately led to a huge demotion for former water system director Tony Parrott, who was busted down to a water treatment plant operator.

Parrott ultimately admitted that he guessed at the cause of foul smelling and tasting water that was delivered to homes and businesses all over the county over a period of several weeks in late May and early June.

The stinky water was later blamed on operations at the Crosstown water treatment plant, specifically the continued use of recycled water from two holding ponds which contained backwash water from the filter cleaning process. To rectify part of the problem, the county hired a contractor to remove sludge from those ponds, a process that had not been undertaken in a number of years.

On the heels of that episode, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division cited the county for violating 10 state water quality rules and recommended that Parrott and four other top water system officials be investigated as to whether they “may have practiced fraud or deception,” or instead are “incompetent or unable to perform their duties properly.”

Among the rule violations were water treatment operations being conducted by uncertified personnel and also a lack of record-keeping and continuous monitoring of water produced at both of the county’s water treatment plants. Among the deficiencies were a host of equipment problems at the plants, with the higher concentration being at the Crosstown water treatment plant in Peachtree City.

Rapson lauded water system employees for making progress on correcting the deficiencies listed by EPD.

“Our Fayette water system personnel have done an outstanding job pulling together and removing 55.3 percent of the deficiencies citied by the EPD over this past month,” Rapson said in a news release.

The county is developing a plan to address the remaining four rule violations and officials noted that EPD has helped the county “in achieving its goal of becoming a top-rated water system.”

The Fayette County Commission last month selected a new engineering firm to provide services to the water system, choosing CH2M Hill, the same firm that has provided specific guidance to resolve the smelly water issue and a problem weeks later with high manganese levels that were registered at both of the county’s water treatment plants.

CH2M Hill “has “brought considerable technical expertise in the area of design, design-build, operations and program management for water services operations,” county officials said.

CH2M Hill will be charged with getting the water system back up to snuff in the eyes of state regulators and also analyzing a proposal to spend $9 million on a magnetic ion exchange (MiEx) addition to the county’s water treatment plants to meet more stringent federal drinking water quality rules.

Contrary to previous published reports, County Administrator Rapson has never worked for CH2M Hill, Rapson said last week. He did work with CH2M Hill officials when he worked for the new city of Sandy Springs a number of years ago, but Rapson said he was employed and paid by the city, not by CH2M Hill.

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