The Berry Water Supply: Watering Down the Filtration Process

Elisabeth Martin, Campus Carrier Features Editor

Jamison Guice, Campus Carrier Asst. Features Editor

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Water from the reservoir is treated with a solution that makes particles clump together and sink to the bottom of these basins. This is the first step in purifying the water that is used all over Berry’s campus. Photos by Elisabeth Martin | Campus Carrier

Since the early 1900s, the reservoir located on Mountain Campus has served as Berry College’s main water supply. After the water is treated at the water plant, it is then piped underground to various locations to flow out of faucets, showers, fountains and sprinklers.

Since the reservoir was dammed in the late 1920s, it has collected water from the campus’ own watershed. A watershed refers to the land surrounding a body of water that collects water. At Berry, water from the watershed flows from places such as Lavender Mountain toward the reservoir.

Because Berry owns all of the land that makes up the watershed, it is easy to ensure that there are no major pollutants in that area.

“When we think about our watershed, it is an area that is protected,” said Jessica Sutton, assistant professor of environmental science. “We don’t have things like gas stations, we don’t have things like cattle on the campus that’s then going to go into the reservoir.”

Sutton uses the reservoir to teach students in her Introduction to Environmental Science class the impact of water: how it is used, treated and distributed.

Once water is piped to the plant, the water treatment process includes the basic step of adding chlorine for disinfectant to remove bad pathogens such as bacteria and then it undergoes a four-step process.

“Coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation and then filtration,” Sutton said. “So, basically through these different steps, the chemicals are added and it causes all of the bad material to come together and fall out of suspension. So, it is able to remove all of the stuff, say sediment or any kind of pathogens like E. coli.”

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Peterson holds the materials that are used to filter smaller particles out of water after the initial coagulation process. These materials differ in size so that they can prevent a wider variety of materials from slipping through.

Every process that happens at the water plant serves a purpose in disinfecting. Operators do tests on the water every day, while also monitoring a constant display of chemical levels and filters. Periodically, the water plant must send water to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division so it can sample the raw water for different components.

“All of Berry’s water: the fire hydrants, the faucets, the toilets, it’s all the same water and it all started right here,” Peterson said. “Our goal is that every drop is safe to drink.”

Sutton said that Rome’s water supply, which is taken from the Etowah and Oostanaula rivers, contains more pollutants than Berry’s water. The Rome river water must undergo more treatment since the watershed is so much larger. For that reason, there are more opportunities for contaminants to run into the river from the land.

“We are lucky in that way,” Peterson said. “Our water quality is really good because of that high quality water in the reservoir.”

On a normal day, the water plant operates at about 30 percent capacity. At full capacity, the plant could make about a million gallons per day, but currently it makes about 250 thousand. That means that the water plant produces about 400 gallons per minute to keep up with the demand. Peterson said that Berry uses about 300 gallons per minute.

“This facility is really just a big machine,” Peterson said. “It is made so at the maximum it can produce a million gallons a day. I tell people that for scale, because there are some cities and water plants that are producing 20 million a day or 100 million a day, and you can imagine how much bigger they are.”

let that sink in
A station inside the water plant keeps three taps running throughout the day. These taps, from left to right, contain untreated water from the reservoir, filtered water and finished water. Plant operators test the water at each phase for different substances.

Even as a relatively small operation, the water plant has two of every mechanism. This is so that the plant can continue to filter water using one system while cleaning or repairing the other.

From time to time, the water plant must respond to sites where a water pipe is damaged and water leaks. For example, Peterson said that in March, a tree fell and damaged a main water pipe on Mountain Campus. This caused Pilgrim to be temporarily out of water. Even though there was a sizable leak, many teams from the physical plant came together to repair the pipe within a few hours.

Another one of Peterson’s responsibilities includes educating the Berry community on water use.

“I don’t have any control over how much water people use,” Peterson said. “When there is a drought, I go around and I make people aware of drought conditions and ask them to be more careful with their use of water. Every water system has the same problem when a drought comes: it’s the outdoor water that’s a problem and not the water that people use for drinking and cooking and bathing. The outdoor water really adds up.”

Sutton said that she also thinks that water could be used more wisely on campus so that the water plant would not have to waste as much water.

For example, some ways to conserve water include taking shorter showers and baths, cutting the tap off while brushing teeth, only washing clothes on a full load and avoid bottled water. Making changes in your everyday life can have positive results for both the local environment and the future.

“People take their water for granted because they have done such a good job for so long,” Peterson said.

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