The severe change in weather from the drought of the past few years to torrential rains beginning this spring affected anything and anyone working with water.
"As much as those other years were abnormally dry years, this has been an abnormally wet year," said Billy Clayton, director of Columbia County's Water and Sewer Division. "This is not a normal year for us. An extreme pendulum swing. A normal year? It has been so long since we have seen anything we can call normal, I don't even hardly know what normal is anymore."
Clayton and his crews worked hard to provide nearly 30 million gallons of water a day during the summer months of recent drought years to accommodate outdoor irrigation.
An Appling weather station monitored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climate Data Center received an average of 15 inches of rain annually from 1999 to 2002.
The county's water system capacity is 39 millions gallons a day, so residents were restricted to a water conservation plan, which allowed outdoor watering on particular days.
Bill Clayton (left), director of the county's Water and Sewer Division, and supervisor Mark Inglett check on the progress at the construction site for two new 5-million gallon water storage tanks on Halali Farm Road.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
More than 30 inches of rain have fallen on Columbia County in the first six months of this year, according to NOAA. Water usage is hovering between 8 and 10 million gallons a day. Instead of plants withering in heat, they are drowning in heavy rains.
"Usage is all the way at the bottom. We have been in wintertime usage all summer long," Clayton said. "Nobody is watering anything. The need for yard irrigation has not been there this year at all. Not any."
Demand for residential sprinkler systems have gone down by roughly 30 percent this year, said Travis Lackey, manager of Irrigation Solution Inc., a wholesale supplier to contractors and irrigation companies.
"Residential has pretty much gone completely to nothing," Lackey said.
That drop hurts revenues of the water division, which is not bringing in the funds it did during previous summer months, and for sprinkler companies, whose focus is changing from installation to repair, maintenance and other jobs.
"(The rain) hurt because I couldn't get to the job," said Chester Wilson, owner of Wilson Sprinkler Service. "I haven't had as many calls for installing systems, but I still have all the calls I normally have for trouble-shooting and repair work."
The owners of EnviroSource are relieved that their business is a diversified one in a slow sprinkler season such as this one, when most sprinklers have not been turned on for the year.
"This time of year, we you are mostly getting is French drain issues, water issues folks have in their yards. They need to get rid of this water," EnviroSource co-owner Greg Poteet said. "That has pretty much taken the place of installing irrigation systems - trying to get water our of the yard."
The water division is running as lean and mean as ever to keep costs down when residents are not paying for much water. They will tighten their belts, slow hiring and maybe delay some construction projects, Clayton said.
The division does not include all high-use summertime revenues, like the recent drought years, in their operating budget. Those funds are used to expand the water system in the "philosophy of letting the user of that capacity get the benefit from the money they spend for that capacity," Clayton said.
That money is paying for an expansion at the Point Comfort Road water treatment plant, growing it from a capacity of 39 million gallons to nearly 50 millions gallons, said Clayton, who said he is happy to see the rain this summer.
The lower demand allows crews to shut the plant down temporarily for major connects and disconnects without trouble.
"It has been a double-edged sword because of all the years to be wet like this, this is probably the very best one," he said. "If we had to ask for it, this was the year to do it because we are in major construction mode at our water treatment plant. We hope the construction is finished spring of 2004."
One wet year does not erase nightmares of water shortages for Clayton. Some "summer funds" are being used on Halali Farm Road, where a four-pump building and two 5-million-gallon water storage tanks are being constructed above-ground to help meet future demand, including drought situations and new developments. Clayton expects the extra storage tanks to be functional by next summer.
"What we are trying to do is get us from here to there but have those capacities necessary to meet the needs of new folks that are coming in," Clayton said. "Every home is built with an irrigation system in it. Everyone of those will have the opportunity to run, maybe not this year, but another year.
"We are doing our best to be ready for that occasion. The day is coming when you are going to need that sprinkler system, and we are working to make sure you have water to put in it."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.