From left, Monroe County Commissioner John Ambrose, Commission Chair Greg Tapley and Monroe County resident Charles Grizzard watch as a worker turns on the water service to Grizzard’s house Tuesday. Grizzard was the first resident to get city water in a project inspired by worries about coal ash at Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer.
Caption
From left, Monroe County Commissioner John Ambrose, Commission Chair Greg Tapley and Monroe County resident Charles Grizzard watch as a worker turns on the water service to Grizzard’s house Tuesday. Grizzard was the first resident to get city water in a project inspired by worries about coal ash at Georgia Power’s Plant Scherer.
Credit: Grant Blankenship/GPB

All that’s left for Charles Grizzard to do is put a regulator where the city water line hits his house so the new pressure doesn’t blow apart the kitchen sink. 

That’s because Grizzard was the first Monroe County resident to have his well water replaced with municipal water in a $16 million county project that followed concerns last year over coal ash at Georgia Power’s nearby Plant Scherer.

Grizzard said his well never turned up any worrisome toxins last year when the Altamaha Riverkeeper tested dozens of home wells for harmful chemicals associated with coal ash. Still, he was more than happy to make the switch to city water, just in case his well ever went dry. 

“They told me it wouldn’t, but sometimes you don’t get told the truth all the time,” Grizzard said. 

When it comes to his well testing results, Grizzard was lucky. Other residents in the Monroe County town of Juliette found potentially toxic substances, most notably, in some cases, the carcinogen hexavalent chromium, in their test results. 

There is no legal standard at either the Georgia or federal level for hexavalent chromium. Georgia Power said its water quality data, sourced from the many test wells dropped into the aquifer near Juliette, show the Plant Scherer coal ash pond is polluting the aquifer within legal limits.

Even so, anxiety about the coal ash pond at Plant Scherer being partially submerged in the aquifer from which residents draw their drinking water compelled residents last year to back a pair of bills in the General Assembly aimed at changing how coal ash can be stored in the state. 

The bills died in a pandemic-shortened session and the well testing never definitively tied the well tests to the Plant Scherer ash pond. Still, Monroe County Commissioner John Ambrose said something needed to be done about the water. 

“We said, you know, regardless what's down there, regardless what they want, only thing we as commissioners could do was provide fresh water to them,” Ambrose said. 

When the project was first announced, there was talk about the county pursuing compensation from Georgia Power for the millions to be spent. That would have required more well testing by the county to make the case. Ambrose said that effort to do more testing has definitely cooled. 

“You know, we backed off on that because the tests that they've done were sufficient and they were high-quality tests,” Ambrose said of the tests performed by the environmental advocacy group the Altamaha Riverkeeper. 

Monroe County Commission Chairman Greg Tapley said the county might yet ask Georgia Power to pitch in for the water project, but only after it could be proven without a shadow of a doubt the utility was at fault. 

“You know, they're innocent until proven guilty. We can't do much more than what we did, which is actually bring water,” Tabley said.“This was a solution that we could control. That we on the county level could handle.”

Tapley said he hadn’t heard of the new coal ash storage bill that's in the Georgia House this year until after the ceremony turning on Grizzard’s water. But even without knowing the details, he said he’d support it. 

“Anything that keeps the contaminants from getting out into nature, I'm for that,” Tapley said. 

Tapley also said he was watching developments in a civil suit brought by a number of Juliette residents against Georgia Power for a signal that the county might ask Georgia Power to help out with the price tag of the new water system after all.