The water crisis that is affecting the city of Summerville, Georgia, could last anywhere from six months to a year and cost $1.2 million for new equipment and installation at the city's water treatment plant, officials said.
City manager Janice Galloway said more than 10,000 people — including inmates at Hays State Prison in Trion and Summerville's nursing home — will be under its water advisory until the city can come up with a short-term and long-term plan.
"People are scared," Galloway said. "We're not turning away anyone who wants water."
The water advisory was only directed at certain people — the elderly, pregnant, infants, children and people with compromised immune systems — but Galloway said she has heard from dozens of residents who will not consume the city water as a precaution.
The advisory involves levels of two manmade chemicals found during water quality testing at the city's Raccoon Creek treatment plant.
Galloway said the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has told her that it may have found the source of the two chemicals but hasn't confirmed it with her.
She said the city will have to come up with some of the funding to fix the problem. She has been talking with several state and federal agencies to help cover the costs with loans and grants.
"Some of the loans we have talked about would be a 70/30 split, 70% being a loan," she said.
Summerville residents may have an unlikely safe haven as drinking water in the city has been deemed undrinkable: McDonald's.
On Friday afternoon, the fast-food giant calmed the nerves of local customers and reported the Summerville location has been approved by the state's Department of Public Health to serve all drinks, tea, coffee, water and ice.
McDonald's took to social media to boast about its special carbon filter that ensures all water is safe under such circumstances.
Meanwhile, the city's public works director said water customers coud be without their normal drinkable water for a long time — six months to a year.
"That's just an estimation," Terry Tinney said. "We have no real idea at this point."
"We're doing the best we can," Tinney said. "Everything is going pretty smoothly. Our engineering firm is looking at our options now but hasn't gotten back to us about any solutions. It won't be cheap or a quick fix."
Galloway estimated the city has given out an average of 12 to 18 pallets of bottled water since Tuesday and already gone through one 5,500-gallon tanker.
Another 6,500-gallon tanker is set up at the prison, and smaller units hopefully will be delivered next week for the schools, Galloway said.
HOW WE GOT HERE
On Jan. 31, Galloway got a call from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about the water quality testing from the city's Raccoon Creek treatment plant that showed high levels of perfluorooctane sulfonate and perfluorooctanoic acid.
Those manmade chemicals are used to make carpet, clothing fabric, cookware, paper, food packaging and other materials, according to a statement from the city.
The city is insisting that the levels of both chemicals in its water have not increased, but the federal EPA standards for acceptable levels have become more stringent.
EPA standards changed in 2016, lowering the acceptable maximum amount from 600 parts per trillion to 70. Summerville's Raccoon Creek plant registered 98 parts per trillion, and the combined levels of both chemicals in the Goodwin Hill Tank were found to be 92 parts per trillion.
On Feb. 3, water tanks were brought into the city for residents to fill containers with fresh water for drinking.
Chattooga County's sole commissioner Jason Winters declared a state of emergency shortly after. Earlier this week, the Georgia Department of Agriculture published a notice that no animals should be drinking the city water, either.
The heavy rainfall that fell Thursday also caused one of the city's water tankers to sink into the parking lot concrete at City Hall. Tinney said the rain caused some problems at the city wastewater facility, but other than that, things were fine during the storm.
Galloway said she hopes the city will find a short-term fix in the next few months and a long-term fix within the year.
Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.