Brief History of Anniston's Public Water System
By: E. C. KNOWLTON (1965), J. D. Miller (1997 & 2006) and E. A. Turner (2015)
Anniston’s public water system in the 1880’s had been developed by the Anniston Land Company. The source of supply was a well on the west side of Moore Avenue, just north of Eleventh Street, adjacent to the current Water Board office, where a pump delivered the water into a ten-inch pipeline that ran out to Tenth Street and thence east in Tenth Street to a small reservoir located on the hill near Highland Cemetery.
Anniston’s growth, and especially the need for large quantities of water to supply the blast furnaces located near Fifteenth Street and Clydesdale Avenue, presented the necessity for development of a larger source of supply. A new corporation, The Anniston Water Supply Company, was organized in 1889 to expand the water system. T. G. Bush of Birmingham and several associates were the stockholders. They bought the then present system and proceeded immediately to its expansion.
Coldwater Spring and 240 surrounding acres of land were bought for a source of supply. (In searching the title to this property there was disclosed the fact that it once belonged to an Indian named Watkopie.) The flow of the spring at that time was estimated by various engineers to be from 24,000,000 to 36,000,000 gallons per day.
A brick pump house, fifty by one hundred feet, was erected beside the spring to house boilers and two steam-driven pumps, each with a capacity of 3,000,000 gallons per day. These pumps were enormous, weighing some 100 tons each.
A twenty-inch cast iron transmission pipeline was installed from Coldwater to Anniston. A 6,000,000 gallon open reservoir was crated by building a rock masonry dam across a mountain hollow above Corning Street in west Anniston. Numerous additional distribution mains and fire hydrants were installed within the city limits.
This new system was placed in operation in 1890. Its builders must have “seen big” when they designed it, for it sufficed to Anniston’s needs for nearly fifty years; although the pumping station was converted from steam to electricity in 1913.
In 1913, the system was sold to the Alabama Water Company, a corporation headed by John B. Weakley and Eugene Fies of Birmingham. This firm owned and operated several other public water systems in Alabama.
About 1926, the Alabama Water Company’s holdings in Alabama were sold to Federal Water Service Corporation, a national company then owning 260 water systems in eleven states. (Incidentally, Federal Water Service Corporation conceived and financed Southern Natural Gas Corporation.)
In the charter granted by the City of Anniston for the operation of a water system, there was a provision that gave Anniston the right to purchase the system at the end of any five-year period during the life of the charter; at a price to be arrived at by a method which later became very controversial.
When, in 1920, Anniston gave formal notice of its intention to exercise the purchase right, the parties were unable to agree upon the interpretation of the price-fixing method. There ensued fifteen years of court litigation, which ended by an out-of-court agreement on a price of $725,000.00. Thus, in 1935, Anniston became owner of the Water System.
By 1940, the water demand was approaching pump and transmission main capacities; so an additional twenty-inch cast iron pipeline was installed from Coldwater to Anniston, additional pumps were installed in the new pump station building which had been erected in 1937 to replace the original building, the reservoir above Corning was replaced with a concrete covered structure of 4,000,000 gallons’ capacity, two steel reservoirs (Highland and Gurnee) of 2,000,000 gallons each were added and a second pipeline (12” in size) was run from Anniston to Fort McClellan to reinforce that service.
In 1951, the water demand was again approaching the system’s capacity and there was also need for a pipeline along Highway 78 Cutoff to supply new industries and subdivisions. An addition was built onto Coldwater Pump Station to house additional and larger pumps, a twenty-four inch cast iron pipeline was installed from Coldwater along Highway 78 Cutoff to and through Oxford and on to Anniston. Additional 12, 16, and 20 inch mains were grid ironed across the city to reinforce the distribution system.
]As the city expanded to higher levels on mountains surrounding the area, it became necessary to install high-level systems to supply such new developments. While these auxiliary systems take their water from the general system, each has its own pumping station, reservoir and pipelines -- thus becoming a separate system. There are six of these. The Board currently maintains a total of 14 storage tanks with a capacity of 17.6 million gallons.
In 1956, City of Anniston authorized construction of the Choccolocco Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant and some large trunk and relief sewers at a cost of approximately two million dollars. The Water Department was in a position to finance the bonds for this construction and the subsequent operating costs of the treatment plant from its earnings, and in July 1962, the City transferred the remaining sanitary sewer system to the Board to operate and maintain. In 1988 Choccolocco Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant was upgraded to a capacity of 14,750,000 gallons per day.
In the mid-1960’s, Anniston Water Works began plans for a project with the United States Soil Conservation Service to construct a reservoir along Hillabee Creek, seven miles southwest of Anniston. 175 acres of property were acquired and in 1971, the reservoir was completed at a cost of $601,805. The reservoir is formed by dam 82 feet high, 525 feet long and impounds over one billion gallons of water. As the Hillabee Reservoir was nearing completion, studies began again with the soil conservation service on the construction of another reservoir in the White Plains area. Over 265 acres were acquired two miles west of Alabama Highway Nine, near Rainbow Drive, to construct a reservoir fed by the Shoal and Chinch Creeks. In 1977, the Sam H. Hamner Reservoir was completed at a cost of $1,375,657. It is impounded by a dam 87 feet high and 1,450 feet long, and includes an auxiliary dam, 80 feet high and 450 feet long and holds just under two billion gallons of water.
In the late 1970’s construction began on a new surface water treatment plant to treat water from the Hillabee Reservoir. After a significant construction delay, brought about by the abandonment of the project by the contractor, the Earl C. Knowlton Water Treatment Plant was completed and went into operation in 1982. The plant is permitted to treat six million gallons per day, but can treat up to ten million gallons per day with approved modifications.
In 2003, the Board sought, and was granted, an increase in its permitted capacity at the Paul B. Krebs Water Treatment Plant at Coldwater Spring. The permitted increase to thirty-million gallons per day brought the total permitted capacity of the system to thirty-six million gallons per day.
Customers have increased from 2,400 in 1918 to nearly 14,000 in 1965 to over 20,000 in 1997. Daily water consumption has increased from 1,500,000 gallons in 1918 to over 12,000,000 in 1997. The system, originally designed to serve Anniston proper with water for drinking, fire protection and industry, has expanded over the years to also serve parts of Oxford, Blue Mountain, Fort McClellan, Anniston Army Depot, Cleburne County, Randolph County, parts of Clay County, Jacksonville, Heflin and Haralson County Georgia. Customers also include the Calhoun County Water and Fire Protection Authority, Hobson City and the City of Weaver. During this time a customer of the Board was the Southern Bottled Water Company, later known as Coldwater Springs, LLC. This local company takes water from Coldwater Spring for sale nationally under the label of “Watkopie Spring,” “Coldwater Mountain Springs” or “Coldwater Springs.”
Distribution mains, service lines, and public fire hydrants within the service area have been installed through the years as the needs arose. In 1997 water and sewer mains totaled over 600 miles; public fire hydrants over 1,400.
Because of conditions stipulated in the original and subsequent bond issues to finance the purchase and expansion of the water system, The Water Department was operated as a separate entity of the City of Anniston under a Board of Water Commissioners consisting of five members appointed by the City Commissioners for four-year terms. On July 27, 1962, the Department was reorganized as The Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Anniston, a public corporation under Act 175, Section 402(15), Title 37, Code of Alabama, and consisted of a 5-member Board of Directors appointed by the City Commissioners, City of Anniston, for 2, 4 and 6 year terms initially, to provide continuity of management, with all subsequent appointments for 6-year durations. In 1995 the State Legislature passed an act expanding the Board to 7 members appointed for 6-year terms. The act provides for 4 appointments to be made by the Anniston City Council and 3 appointments to be made by the Calhoun County legislative delegation.
In 1999 the Board was awarded ownership of the former Fort McClellan water and sewer systems previously operated by the U.S. Army. The Fort was closed as a result of the 1996 Base Realignment and Closure Act and was, at the time, the largest base closure in U.S. history. The Fort system consisted of over 57 miles of water mains, 34 miles of sewer lines, 500 fire hydrants and one waste water treatment plant. The Fort McClellan Waste Water Treatment Plant had a capacity at the time of 2.2 million gallons per day. Upon obtaining ownership of the Fort system through a no-cost public benefit conveyance the Board proceeded to perform over $3.5 million in improvements to the plant and collection system mostly funded through a grant from the U.S. Government - Economic Development Authority established for base closure adjustment. In addition, many point repairs and other operational improvements were made by Board personnel. By 2005 revenues from the reuse and redevelopment of the fort exceeded those from the Army in 1996.
At the same time the Board embarked on its first continuous quality improvement program. This activity resulted in the reduction of nearly 25% of existing staff through attrition and reduction in hiring. It also included intensive training and cross training of remaining personnel. Technology upgrades including the installation of 10,000 radio/automated meters, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA), and computerized billing systems. As a result charges for basic water and sewer service remained virtually unchanged from 1991 to 2006. The Water Works and Sewer Board of the City of Anniston as it now exists consists of 53 employees operating two modern water treatment plants and two waste water treatment plants serving 20,000 water customers and 9,000 sewer customers
During the decade from 1996 to 2006 the Board invested over $40 million in infrastructure and capital improvements in the system. Those included upgrades to Coldwater Spring, Paul B. Krebs Water Treatment Plant and to the Choccolocco Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant as well as other components of the system. Over $10 million of those monies were obtained from outside sources and another $20 million was “pay as you go.” Through the use of refinancing and declining interest rates the Board added only $9 million in additional debt. The additional debt issued for this purpose as well as the existing debt was rated A2 by Moody’s Investor Service.
By 2007, the system had started to experience a sharp decline in the direct customer base. By 2015 the number of water customers had dropped to about 19,000 after rising to over 20,000 in 1997. Sewer customers had dropped to about 7,600 after reaching 9,600 in the late 1980's. The corresponding loss in revenue was offset by the extension of water service to Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Lincoln, Alabama, via a 13-mile long main extension laid along U.S. Highway 78 West. The project was a joint venture between the Board, Honda Manufacturing and the State of Alabama and cost over $8 million to install. The project was completed in December, 2014. Almost simultaneously, the Board was successful in obtaining a water supply contract with Haralson County, Georgia, using established pipelines with Cleburne County, Alabama. The number of purchase-water systems under contract to the Board by this time totaled six. In 2015, a contract totaling $5.1 million was awarded to renovate and upgrade the Earl C. Knowlton Water Treatment Plant that had been in service since 1982. The same year, the Board embarked on a $10 million restoration project of parts of the sanitary sewer system. At this time, water and sewer mains in service had increased to just under 800 miles. Employees of the Board were 62 and annual revenue was about $15 million.
The Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board is a not-for-profit, independent legal entity created by act of the Alabama State Legislature. It is supported almost solely by the rates charged to its customers. No tax dollars are used for operation of its water and waste water systems with the exception of federal and state grants. Aside from 5% of gross receipts which are paid to the City of Anniston as a payment in lieu of taxes, all revenues generated by operations are required by indenture to be used for the operation, maintenance and improvement of its water and waste water systems.