Improving Water Supply and Aging Infrastructure in Atlanta

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This summer, as Congress works to advance targeted infrastructure bills like the Water Resources Development Act, cities across the country are continuing to call on Washington to build on these efforts and to commit to rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure in partnership with the nation’s local elected officials.

During Infrastructure Week in May, city leaders took this message to Capitol Hill. Last week, city leaders in Atlanta and across the country came together at a press conference to echo that message — and to highlight local water infrastructure needs.

Atlanta, like cities across the country, face challenges with aging infrastructure. The city’s original water supply pipelines are still in service, dating back to 1893, 1908 and 1924. This water system infrastructure forms the foundation and starting point for delivering clean and reliable drinking water and fire protection services throughout the city and region, including the Atlanta airport. While the city’s water mains were renewed with a cement liner in the 1950s, they have far exceeded their design life.

Currently, the City of Atlanta is undertaking a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort to upgrade this aging infrastructure, while expanding the city’s water supply and creating the city’s largest public park by transforming the abandoned Bellwood granite quarry into a reservoir.

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Leaders from the City of Atlanta and Women in Municipal Government discuss infrastructure.

“The water supply project, under the leadership of Commissioner Kishia Powell, has the city of Atlanta thinking about not just today, but what our efforts are around sustainability in the future,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. “Such a significant part of that is what we see happening at Bellwood Quarry.”

A new five-mile, 10-foot diameter conveyance line between the Chattahoochee River and the Bellwood Quarry will connect to the Chattahoochee Water Treatment Plant and the Hemphill Water Treatment Plant. Since September 2016, the city has completed three miles of the tunnel, with an expected completion date in September 2019.

“The Water Supply Program is one of many innovative yet critical undertakings in our $1 billion capital improvement program to secure our valuable water resource for many generations to come,” said Commissioner Kishia Powell, Department of Watershed Management. “Converting the former Bellwood Quarry into at 2.4-billion-gallon water storage facility is providing the City of Atlanta the opportunity to improve our water infrastructure reliability and provide for increased emergency reserves from 3-5 days to 30 days or more.”

The $300 million Water Supply Program will provide some key benefits to the city: providing climate resilience for periods of drought; supporting the long-term population growth of the city and region; and protecting close to $100 million per day in economic activity of the city and region. The project will also enhance operational reliability through improved automation and system redundancy.

Atlanta is just one example of how cities across the country are investing in infrastructure to plan for the future.

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“We, at the Georgia Municipal Association and the National League of Cities call on Congress to develop an infrastructure proposal that addresses the needs of cities when it comes to our infrastructure,” said Albany, Georgia Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, President of the Georgia Municipal Association. “Georgia’s cities will need a projected $11.2 billion to meet capital infrastructure needs over the next five years, including $3.7 billion for water and sewer infrastructure.”

At the press conference, NLC also released its annual State of the Cities report, which analyzes mayoral speeches and highlights issues and trends that are most critical to cities. 56 percent of mayors nationwide indicated that infrastructure was among their top issues. Within the broader topic of infrastructure, water and waste management were mentioned as key issues of concern.

The press conference marked the beginning of the annual Women in Municipal Government (WIMG) summer conference, which brought together over 70 women in local government from across the country to network, learn from each other and learn how the City of Atlanta is leading on issues like infrastructure and economic development.

With less than 60 days until August recess, cities need to continue to urge Congress to step up to the plate and invest in rebuilding and reimagining America’s infrastructure with local leaders. Learn how your voice can heard by visiting our Rebuild With Us Action Guide. By standing together during August recess, we can continue to make progress in moving a federal infrastructure plan forward.

About the Author: Carolyn Berndt is the program director for infrastructure and sustainability on the NLC Federal Advocacy team. Follow Carolyn on Twitter at @BerndtCarolyn.