Forsyth County will have at least 30 additional days to buy untreated water from the city of Cumming.
During Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Mayor H. Ford Gravitt made a recommendation, which council unanimously approved, to give the county until Oct. 31 before it stops selling untreated water.
Last month, council voted 5-0 to end sales of untreated water on Oct. 1.
Gravitt told the council Tuesday he had received a request from Commissioner Brian Tam asking for 30 more days, to which he agreed.
“To show good faith of the city and try to work things out and resolve things … I would recommend to the council that we honor Commissioner Tam’s request,” Gravitt said.
The decision to stop selling the untreated water came as a result of ongoing disagreements between the city and county in regards to a water contract.
The move does not apply to treated water, which Gravitt has said the city will continue to provide.
Forsyth County buys untreated and treated water from Cumming since the city has a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw water from Lake Lanier, while the county does not.
The county purchased water from the city under an agreement that lasted for 25 years before expiring in May.
At that time, city and county leaders reached an informal agreement, but haven’t been able to work out the details to make it official.
In the meantime, the county has continued to buy both types of water. The rates are a little more than 10 cents per 1, 000 gallons for untreated and about $2.43 per 1, 000 gallons for treated water.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Gravitt said “several things” had happened in regards to the water disagreement since council’s August meeting.
“One in particular [is] Chairman [Jim] Boff had written a letter on behalf of himself as a commissioner and asked the governor, the attorney general maybe … the EPD, maybe Rep. Mark Hamilton and Sen. [Jack] Murphy to maybe try to intervene because of potential safety issues or health issues,” he said.
Gravitt said Boff believes there might be safety issues due to the city not being able to provide enough treated water to supply both the city and county if the city goes through with cutting off county access to untreated water.
“We don’t think that’s going to happen that there would be a health issue or a safety issue,” Gravitt said. “Prior to 1997, when the county got into its treatment facility and built their intake on Antioch Road, the city was furnishing the county all the water through the [city’s] treated facility.”
He went on to say that the city’s permit allows for up to 24 million gallons of water to be treated per day.
“The county right now, we think they’re using 12 to 14 million gallons per day, the city of Cumming is using around five to six million per day, so we’re in that area where we feel at this time of the year, we can do that,” he said.
During the extended 30 days before the cutoff of untreated water, Gravitt suggested city and county utility employees work together to evaluate the viability of the city providing all treated water to the county.
“During that 30 days, one of the things I would request of our distribution department would be to work with his counterpart at the county and max out our treated water to the county and see what kind of issues that come up, see if we have any kind of safety issue or health issue during that 30-day period,” Gravitt said.
He also made a recommendation to pursue mediation of the water agreement during meetings with the county on Oct. 15 and 16.
Those meetings will first focus on a division of revenue from the one-cent local option sales tax, or LOST, between the city and county.
“That is one of the reasons that my recommendation is to extend this 30 days is that we can potentially mediate and talk about the water during the LOST [meetings],” Gravitt said.
The mayor’s recommendation to focus on LOST and then work on the water agreement was unanimously approved by council.
The water contract proposal agreed on May would set the county's price for treated water at $2.25 per 1, 000 gallons, adjusted to the consumer price index.
Forsyth would maintain the minimum purchase of 1.6 billion gallons per year, and the contract would last for five years, with a five-year option to renew.
For untreated water, the county would pay the current rate, also subject to a price index, for 15 years with a 15-year option to renew.
In addition, the city would also make available an average of 4.5 million gallons per day of untreated water from its withdrawal permit from the EPD.
The county also agreed to pay $11.4 million, which Cumming had billed in February, for its portion of the city’s expanded water infrastructure.