RWR profits, but says work is still needed

CONYERS -- Rockdale Water Resources turned a profit in 2009, which officials took as an encouraging sign of progress as improvements continue to be sought in several areas of operations.

RWR Director Dwight Wicks provided a year-end report to the Board of Commissioners on Monday that showed some progress while acknowledging challenges remain for the water and sewer utility.

The challenges include replacing an aging infrastructure that Wicks said has been ignored for years, staffing issues and delivery and billing issues.

The latter challenge was highlighted by many RWR customers receiving two bills this month as a way to catch up on the billing cycle which was delayed in December due to transition to a new software system.

Wicks said he appreciated the frustration of customers concerning the recent billing. He said they will see marked improvements with the new software over the previous system, which was more than 10 years old.

RWR generated $250,000 in revenue in 2009 from a $26.6 million budget. Wicks assured the commissioners the money will be used for capital improvements and not operational costs and said the money will go into RWR's renewal and extension fund.

Wicks said infrastructure is a primary concern for the water department and that the goal is to build up the capital improvement fund. The plan is to save at a minimum $1 million a year toward the fund, but the department is not there yet.

He said depreciation of the water department's infrastructure is about $6 million a year as pipe and other equipment is used.

"It's a serious concern when something wears out and you don't save toward replacing that infrastructure," Wicks said. "We can get in serious trouble."

Wicks said RWR will soon begin a rate stabilization study that will review revenue versus operational costs over a five-year period and that should provide a truer, overall picture of how revenue can support operations.

Wicks also reported on production that showed RWR produced 3.0882 billion gallons of potable water in 2009, which was a 9 percent decrease from the previous year. Wicks said water conservation efforts from severe drought conditions in 2007 and 2008 were taking hold and had the biggest effect on production. Also, as the rain returned in 2009, there was less need for outdoor watering.

It was the opposite for wastewater reclamation. RWR treated 2.111 billion gallons of sewage last year, a 12 percent increase.

Wicks said there is no metering for sewer usage, and that sewer customers are charged by water usage. The increase in sewage treatment was caused by infiltration and inflow of storm and groundwater into the sewer system, Wicks said.

RWR is under a state mandate to reduce infiltration and inflow over a 15-year period. Wicks said the department had made good faith efforts to make repairs to the system and shown improvement that has allowed the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to extend the mandate to 20 years.

RWR has also made efforts to have more information available to the public than in years past, Wicks said. The year-end report will be published soon and available to customers. Since the reconstitution of the Water and Sewerage Authority last year, all authority meetings are taped for broadcast on the local government access cable channel, Rockdale 23. And RWR budget information has been made available on the county government website and on the county's P-Drive, its public records access portal.