Stormwater System Under Construction

A continuous project cycle enables steady stormwater system improvement for Georgia utility.

Stormwater System Under Construction

Douglasville-Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority foreman Danny Brumfield uses a Gradall XL3100 to remove an old catch basin top with Joan Salazar, Mason Haggadone and Kade Lambert standing by to assist. (Photography by Kaylinn Gilstrap)

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Stormwater management is critical in Douglas County, Georgia. The area receives approximately 54 inches of rain each year, compared to the national average of 38 inches.

The Douglasville-Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority’s $4.8 million annual stormwater budget is aimed at keeping runoff moving through the county and into the Chattahoochee River. The effort has brought awards from the likes of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals, American Water Works Association, Water Environment Federation and the Upper Chattahoochee RiverKeeper organization.

The WSA’s goal is to keep the water moving so the local economy can keep growing. The county seat of Douglasville has doubled in size since 2000, now numbering about 40,000 people, and the county hosts such industrial clients as an Amazon distribution center and a Google data facility.

All of that growth, and the prospect of more, isn’t daunting to Steve Ingle, project engineer at the WSA, and his stormwater colleagues. “I think the authority is doing a really good job,” he says. “From reports I see of other jurisdictions around here, we do a better job of planning than some.”

Stormwater management

The WSA, which serves about 140,000 people including unincorporated areas in the county, was formed in 1985 in response to concerns about uneven funding of sewer lines in new developments. The decision was made to create a water and sewer authority to handle issues surrounding water and wastewater quality in the growing community. Such umbrella utility authorities are not uncommon in the Atlanta metropolitan area, according to Ingle. The WSA is governed by a seven-member board appointed by the city and county. The Douglasville mayor and the chairman of the county board of commissioners are among the members.

It wasn’t until 2003 that city and county leaders decided to incorporate stormwater management into the framework of the WSA. This followed a 1999 decision by federal environmental regulators to begin applying a strenuous permitting process for stormwater management regulations to smaller jurisdictions.

City and county officials looked at the regulations and opted to meet them through an intergovernmental agreement with the WSA. The federal permit requires a governing authority to follow best management practices, perform regular inspections, enforce rules, monitor stormwater movement and continuously educate the public about environmental concerns.

After the WSA agreed to take on the responsibility, it immediately completed flood plain studies on each of the nine basins in the county. “All of those studies were done by 2013, and most of the updates to the FEMA maps are complete,” Ingle says.

Eight of the basins in the county feed local creeks. One basin replenishes Dog River, which originates outside Douglas County. Sweetwater Creek runs through several other counties before entering Douglas, and its basin is the largest. All of the watersheds are relatively narrow, so while water from a heavy rain might rise fairly dramatically in streams, it falls just as swiftly and moves along.

Steady work

Stormwater projects in the county are almost invariably conceived and executed by the WSA. “The county already had some stormwater problem locations, and county officials made us aware of them when we took over,” Ingle says. “We really had full responsibility at that point. I can’t think of a capital project in the last few years that hasn’t been initiated by us.”

Most dirt-moving jobs involve repair or replacement of pipe that is undersized or in poor condition. Two projects out for bid in early April are typical. The Fairways Drive project involves lining 183 feet of a 36-inch corrugated pipe with centrifugally cast concrete pipe and installing a new lid on a buried junction box. And on Dorris Road, a contractor will repair leaking joints and replace a failed downstream apron and wingwall on a concrete box culvert, plus relocate more than 100 feet of 12-inch ductile iron sewer pipe and replace 70 feet of 18-inch metal storm pipe with reinforced concrete pipe.

“It’s our intention to have something under construction all the time,” Ingle says, noting that a newly hired engineer spends all his time on such projects. “We have a bunch of jobs under design or awaiting easements now. A few of them will soon be out for bids.”

The most expensive undertaking in recent years had a $2 million price tag, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency contributing some funds. That job replaced a culvert with a bridge. Because a branch of the stream flowed through a golf course, a bridge for golf carts was also constructed.

FEMA involvement in that project stemmed from massive flooding that submerged the county in 2009 after a September storm cell hovered above the Atlanta area. In Douglas County, 21 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. “It was called a 500-year flood,” Ingle says. “All things considered, our system handled it pretty well. We obviously had roads washed out, though.”

This all happened six years before Ingle joined the WSA. The 55-year-old project engineer had already worked at the Douglas County water treatment plant in college and was working as a civil engineer for a company in Atlanta. In the wake of the flooding, he was assigned to oversee his company’s road repair work in Douglas County.

“It was a blessing to me. I know a lot of our system as a result of working those months on the repair work.”

Building infrastructure

Funding for stormwater management in Douglas County comes from a fee charged to homeowners and commercial property owners. A formula, which is common among stormwater utilities, spreads the responsibility pretty evenly among residential and commercial property owners.

It works this way: All single-family residences pay $4 a month, with residential properties not connected to water and sewer lines being billed just twice a year. The $4 fee was pegged to a study that determined an average residential property in the county contained slightly more than 2,500 square feet of impervious surface — that is, asphalt or concrete pavement and buildings. Based on that, the WSA charges commercial property owners $4 for every 2,500 square feet of impervious surface.  

“It’s worked out very well,” Ingle says. “Homeowners certainly get their money’s worth at $48 a year.”

The collected money goes to, among other things, building and maintaining legacy stormwater infrastructure in Douglas County. The oldest subdivision stormwater pipe typically dates to the early 1960s. Pipes in downtown Douglasville and some county culverts are older. A priority list has been worked up to guide planners in scheduling the work.

“Our biggest problem is the relatively large amount of metal pipe in the system,” Ingle says. “Our capital projects are geared toward replacing metal pipe with concrete pipe as soon as we possibly can, because concrete has less maintenance.”

Some older Douglas County pipe is 12 inches in diameter, with some as small as 8 inches. By contrast, the largest metal stormwater pipe in the county measures 96 inches across, with the largest concrete box culvert being approximately 10 feet by 10 feet.

Best value

Repair or replacement of the 282 miles of stormwater infrastructure is not all contracted out. “We have enough equipment to do construction in-house on many projects,” Ingle says. The maintenance department was created, equipped and staffed when the WSA assumed responsibility for stormwater work in 2004.  

Two full-time inspectors keep an eye on stormwater infrastructure. Between their inspections and property owner complaints, stormwater managers are kept fully apprised of infrastructure problems. Federal stormwater regulations mandate the rest — routine lookouts for illicit discharges into streams, erosion and sediment issues, and potential construction pollution. “The regulators are watching us, but we’re regulators, too, watching developers,” Ingle says.

The stormwater division’s equipment yard holds four diggers: a Caterpillar 312 excavator, Mustang 800Z mini-excavator, Kubota KX91-3 mini-excavator and Gradall XL 3100 telescopic excavator. A fleet of four International and Kenworth dump trucks haul and dump excavation spoils and bring in construction aggregate. The heavy equipment makes replacement of a corrugated pipe running under a county road a reasonable task.

Ingle and other stormwater engineers are kept busy managing compliance with regulations and reviewing plans for new subdivision and commercial projects. “It can get pretty busy at times, especially when we have new development. This time last year, a lot of new developments were underway because the economy was moving so fast.”

Ingle now has the perspective of five years on the job in addition to the time he spent serving the county with an outside firm, and he believes the WSA’s stormwater management group will stay in front of future storms.

“I’m really impressed with how forward-looking the WSA is. It operates as a public service and really wants to provide the best service it can for the best value.” 


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