Metro Utilities, Jack Daniel’s partner to solve low water pressure issue in south Moore County

VP and Assistant General Manager of Jack Daniel’s Distillery Melvin Keebler, Mayor Bonnie Lewis, MUD Director Russell Sells, and LJA Engineering’s Travis Wilson pose in front of the 3 Generations quote in the MUD Board Room. (A Lynchburg Times Photo)

LOCAL NEWS — Russell Sells hadn’t been in his new role as Metro Utilities Department Director long when he met Moore County residents Bud and Ann Cates at a Metro Utilities Board meeting. It wasn’t the first meeting for the Cates. They’d attended many meetings before to complain about miserably low water pressure at their Old Fayetteville Highway home.

“They told me that at certain times they couldn’t wash dishes and that they often lost water pressure mid-shower leaving them with shampoo in their hair. My heart really went out to them,” Sells says. “I knew we had to do something.”

A data driven solution

Sells takes a data driven approach to problem solving at the Metro Utilities Department. He immediately started executing hydrant testing and reviewing zone meter data to determine the cause and effect of the low water pressure. He soon discovered that peak production hours at Jack Daniel’s South Bottling Plant resulted in system pressure drops.

“I approached the folks at the Distillery and they were immediately on board with helping us find and execute a solution,” Sells says.

He also brought in Metro Mayor Bonnie Lewis, who sits on the Metro Utility Board, and Travis Wilson, a local engineer with the firm of LJA Engineering, who is familiar with the Metro Water and Sewer systems. All three sat in on those initial meetings with officials at Jack Daniel’s Distillery.

“We approached Jack Daniel to get data from them while we looked at our data,” Wilson says. “The correlation became clear. They have been very involved from the very beginning of the project. It’s been a true partnership.”

It became clear to all involved during those early meetings that the project was not only in the best interest of those dealing with low water pressure in the south end of the county but also the Metro Water System and the Distillery.

“Jack Daniel’s Distillery is vital to Moore County, and Moore County’s water infrastructure is vital to the continued growth and success of Jack Daniel’s Distillery,” says Jack Daniel’s VP and Assistant General Manager Melvin H. Keebler. “Due to our relationship with Mayor Lewis and our commitment to support Moore County, we were happy to assist with this project when we were approached by Russell Sells.”

Least disruptive, most cost effective solution

The project in question is an estimated over $2 million dollar system improvement that will take place in two distinct parts. MUD will fund $1.3 million to build two booster stations – one larger station near the Metro Water Plant and a smaller station on Old Fayetteville Highway – to help water move along the steep topographical incline located near the Lynchburg Friends of Animals location. The Distillery will spend about $1 million to upgrade water lines from six inch lines to 12 inches lines from the Metro Water Tanks nearest Lynchburg toward the bottling plant.

“More volume plus more pumping power ultimately ended up being the best, least disruptive, and most cost efficient solution,” Sells says. “All parties have been interested in not only fixing the low pressure issue but also getting ahead of it for future growth for both the county and the distillery.”

Mayor Lewis says that resolving the issue is crucial to growth in the south end of the county.

“We’ve had to turn down at least two housing developments because MUD could not issue taps based on the water pressure issue,” she says. “If we already have low water pressure, it wouldn’t make sense to add more customers.”

Sells adds that water pressure in the south end of the county has never dropped below the state required 20 PSI limitation.

“We’ve always been within the legal limits but that technicality wasn’t helping our citizens,” he says.

MUD will pay for the project by issuing a $1.3 million Tennessee Municipal Bond. As a reminder, Metro Utilities is a public utility and enterprise fund that does not use property tax dollars. Instead, water and sewer fees paid by local customers fund all their capital improvements. Sells says that customers should not anticipate any rate increase based on this project.

“We’ve become proactive rather than reactive when it comes to rate increases,” Sells explains. “We anticipated this project in our most recent fee structure increase and customers shouldn’t see any rate increase based on current projects for the next several budget years.”

Project relieves pressure on the entire system

Anytime one portion of a bigger system isn’t working efficiently, it puts pressure on the remaining pieces. According to Director Sells, the same is true for these two projects.

“The way I look at it, these changes will alleviate the Coy Hill Pumping Station from having to work as hard,” Sells says.

“The customers who aren’t having water pressure issues may not feel any effects but the existing equipment will get a breather and won’t wear out as quickly. It’s also going to save the utility electricity costs,” Wilson adds. “We have some areas of the system that are currently being overworked.”

After approval, the design phase will begin immediately. Construction will begin around Summer 2022. Of course, no work will begin until it passes three readings at the Metro Council.

Unfortunately, the Cates won’t get to see their problem get solved. Bud Cates died on August 13, 2020 and Ann passed just 18 days later on August 31. Both retired from Jack Daniel’s Distillery and Mayor Lewis says this project feels like it’s in their honor.

“We wished they would have gotten an opportunity to see all the hard work a lot of people have done to solve their problem,” Sells says. “They brought their problem to county leaders and we definitely heard them.”

There will be a Public Hearing on Monday, October 18 at 6:10 p.m. to hear public input either for or against the TMBF loan for MUD to finance the Booster Station and Water Line Improvement projects. There will also be a public hearing at 6:15 p.m. to hear comment for or against MUD’s indebtedness for their portion of the project, which is $1.3 million. The Metro Council will vote on both items during the October 18 meeting. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only Lynchburg-owned newspaper in Moore County. We cover Metro Moore County government, Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green Distillery, Tims Ford State Park, Motlow State Community College, Moore County High School, Moore County Middle School, Lynchburg Elementary, Raider Sports, plus regional and state news.}