A new agreement between the City of Hinesville and Long County is being hailed as a “game-changer” for the city.
The city and Long County have entered into an intergovernmental agreement for a well to be built just across the county line from the city limits — and the water from the well is seen as a boon for development on both sides of the line.
“This a game changer for our city,” Mayor Allen Brown said. “This is going to be a really great thing for our city.”
Hinesville City Manager Kenneth Howard said the city has been working on additional water capacity for the last three years, and this agreement — if the EPD approves — should help for years to come.
“With all the development that is coming, we don’t have unlimited water supply,” he said. “You had developers who were asking the city to commit and guarantee that they would be afforded x number of gallons for their development. I quickly realized that we were getting these requests quite frequently and we need to understand where we were with our capacity. It seemed like every council meeting we were getting these requests.”
A few years ago, Howard took a look at what the city had in water capacity and what its projected needs were — and he didn’t like what he saw.
To the City Hall veteran, Hinesville appeared it would not have sufficient water to accommodate any more growth in just a few years. The necessity for water became the mother of inventing a way around the city’s groundwater withdrawal restrictions.
Hinesville and Liberty County are in the “yellow zone,” meaning there are restrictions on the amount of water that can be pumped out of the upper Floridan aquifer.
“We determined we had less than five years of available capacity,” Howard said, “which is almost at that emergency mode area. We were within that danger zone. So what do we do?”
Howard expects the city to submit a design development report to the state Environmental Protection Division soon.
“We are poised to proceed,” he said. ‘We are anticipating a favorable response and we will have what we have been working on for three years now, water capacity that will assist with development for years to come in the city.”
As part of the agreement, the city will pay Long County a one-time fee of $500,000 within 30 days of receiving the permit. That money is expected to go toward Long County developing its water system.
The city and county will own the well jointly, and the city will be responsible for all operational costs and will maintain compliance with guidelines and regulations. The cost of construction will be split equally between the city and Long County.
Long County commissioners approved the agreement at their November meeting.
Where to put the well is still to be determined, but Howard said they are looking at an area not far from the old Hinesville. The optimal site would leave the city to put in about 4,200 feet of 16-inch pipe to Barry McCaffrey Boulevard.
Long County is in what is known as the “green zone” for groundwater withdrawal, with no caps to the amount it can pump. The caps were put in to stop saltwater intrusion into the Floridan aquifer.
Currently, the city is permitted to withdraw 4 million gallons per day, but state reductions will curtail that amount to 3.85 million gallons per day beginning in 2025. Last year, the city withdrew an average of nearly 3.48 million gallons per day and the city projects it will surpass its 2025 limit with its need for water in 2023.
Also, the city expects more growth in the coming years. Georgia Tech’s Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development forecast Hinesville’s population to reach nearly 44,000 in 2040.
At that population, the city’s need for water is projected to be 1.8 million gallons per day over what its permitted capacity will be in 2025.
Long County’s need for water also is expected to increase — the county’s population grew by 34% from 2010-18 and projections indicate more growth is coming.
Since the state eliminated the possibility of a Lower Floridan aquifer well, according to the city’s preliminary engineering report, that left the city with just a few alternatives — build a surface water treatment plant and withdraw water from the North Newport River; install Miocene wells within the city; or put in a well in an adjacent Green Zone and construct a system to transport that water from the new well to the city.
The cost of building the system to take water from the North Newport is pegged at more than $28 million, and the Miocene wells option construction is estimated to be more than $4 million.
Howard pointed out there were several items the city had to address, including water conservation. The city’s water reclamation facility on JV Road can treat to a reuse level, meaning it can be applied without harm for irrigation.
Hinesville has been a Water First community since 2009, meaning it has been meeting water conservation requirements.
“Now we have the purple pipe, which is strictly for that reuse water,” Howard said.
Should the EPD grant approval, the project is expected to be completed in 2024.
“That’s the date I was given four years ago we would run out of water,” Howard said. “We didn’t panic. But there was a lot of anxiety when I started talking about this about what the possibilities were.”