Barrow soon to be using Statham water again

WINDER - Barrow County taxpayers are spending $6,000 per month to buy water from Statham, but the county doesn't draw that water. It is left with Statham.

Barrow County pays Statham $6,000 per month for 2 million gallons of water under the terms of a 1991 contract. But Barrow County stopped taking those gallons in 2003, when cheap water began flowing in from the Bear Creek Reservoir. Meanwhile, the bills from Statham keep coming and will continue to until 2031.

In 1991, before the days of the 504-acre retention lake at the Bear Creek Reservoir, Barrow County needed a source from which to buy water. Statham had plenty of water and needed funds to pay for its new $1.6 million treatment plant.

"It was a good mutual agreement, at the time, that gave Statham the guaranteed funds to pay the 40-year note on the treatment plant," said Myron Garrett, director, Barrow County Water Authority.

Under the terms of the 1991 contract, Statham sold the water to Barrow County at a cost of $1.80 per 1,000 gallons with a required minimum 2 million gallons per month purchase. In June 2001, Statham City Council members voted to raise that price to $3 per 1,000 gallons over Mayor Robert Bridges' objections. Council meeting notes state that Bridges supported raising the rate to $2.50 per 1,000 gallons because $3 seemed like "gouging them a little bit."

Statham Council Member Betty Lyle, who in 1992 made the motion to raise the water's price to $3, said the increase was necessary.

"We went up on residents' rates, too," Lyle said. "We had to. Wages go up, gas - we made upgrades to the system."

Councilman Mike Aaron, who seconded the motion, agreed.

"The price of water use went up then - city, county, everything," Aaron said. "We paid for the chemicals to treat it with and those went up, too."

Barrow County does not draw the water it's buying from Statham because the county currently pays $1.60 for each 1,000 gallons purchased from the Bear Creek Reservoir, nearly half the cost of Statham's water.

"If the customers used more than the 2 million gallons, we'd be spending too much money," Garrett said.

Water Department officials figure 120 customers should use just less than 2 million gallons of water per month. Within about four months, Barrow County should be hooked into Statham's water system and servicing an area of about that size.

"We will be using the water we are paying for," Garrett said.