Citing a need to ensure enough water for future growth, Pembroke officials signed Monday to the county’s new water task force.
The city joins both Richmond Hill and Bryan County in an apparent effort to forestall possible cutbacks on withdrawals from the Floridan Aquifer and increase the county’s water supply.
“This will be a political collaboration now and we will continue that with a joint water-sewer (authority) formation,” said Mayor Mary Warnell, shortly before council voted to participate by appointing both her and the city’s water and sewer head, Keith Cook, to the task force.
Pembroke, which is permitted to pump more than 300,000 gallons per day from the aquifer, has adequate water now, Warnell said.
“At this time the amount of water we have is sufficient,” she said. “But should we have major growth, it is not.”
At issue for Pembroke is the state’s decision to put all of Bryan County in an Environmental Protection Division yellow zone, which prohibits the county from getting more water in the future.
By contrast, portions of neighboring Effingham County north of Highway 119 are not under the same restrictions, and local officials want to push the EPD to treat Bryan the same by using Highway 119 as the dividing line in North Bryan and Pembroke.
They’ve called the EPD’s use of lines to delineate zones “arbitrary.”
“I know that will be one of the main issues,” Warnell told the council. “Should it be placed back to Georgia Highway 119 that then provides all the water we would need for North Bryan and the Pembroke area, because we would have access to that water.”
Also on the task force will be County Administrator Ray Pittman, Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler, Richmond Hill City Administrator Chris Lovell, County Engineer Kirk Croasmun and County Commissioner Carter Infinger.
Pittman first raised the idea of a countywide water task force at a planning retreat involving local government, education and business officials in September.
The EPD in May announced there would be no permits issued allowing additional withdrawal of groundwater from the Floridan due to issues with saltwater intrusion into wells on both the South Carolina and Georgia coast.
It’s a problem that has been discussed at least since the mid-1990s as the state continued to experience rapid growth.
From 2000 to 2010, Georgia grew by about 18 percent. Over that same period, Bryan County’s population increased by nearly 30 percent and Effingham County grew by almost 40 percent.
Pembroke is trying to be proactive, officials said at Monday’s meeting.
City Engineer Matt Barrow said Pembroke has applied for a grant through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to find alternative sources of water.
“The city is eligible, it’s potentially up to $30,000 towards the exploration of and investigation of sources for water,” Barrow said, crediting council member Tiffany Walraven with discovering the grant.
Improvements to the city’s water and sewage system — and their funding — were also on the agenda at Monday’s meeting, as officials approved the annual renewal of a Community Development Block Grant Loan.
The city still owes about $770,000 on the loan, which is being used for water and sewer upgrades.
Other water and sewer projects in the city are progressing on schedule, and the city will open bids on another CDBG project involving improvements on Burkhalter, Strickland, Poplar and Garrison streets.
Similarly, a USDA sewer project on Payne Drive is about 75 percent done.
“Hopefully they’ll be wrapping up (the) main installation in the next two months and start connecting. There are about 30-35 more residents to be connected to that new system,” Barrow said.