Sanders Will Move to Brownsville Water Treatment Plant Position
Darren Doyle, story and photo:
The Edmonson County Water District is losing their general manager, someone who has done most of the jobs within the district over the past three decades. Tony Sanders has resigned as general manager but has agreed to stay until a new manager is hired, according to Edmonson County Water Commissioner Greg Nugent.
The water district has had their hands full over the last few years as a result of the removal of Lock and Dam #6 in Brownsville and the halted process of removing Lock and Dam #5 at Roundhill, all directed by federal agencies. The water district has had nothing to do with the decision to remove the dams.
The U.S. Corps of Engineers, the Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and Mammoth Cave National Park all played roles in the removal of Lock #6 in Brownsville, which took place in 2017. The removal of Lock #5 in Roundhill began in September of 2021 , but when water levels in Brownsville began to become critical, the water district was able to convince enough decision makers to temporarily halt the dam removal in Roundhill. While Lock #6 had failed and became a safety hazard, some experts said it could have been repaired. Lock #5 was not expected to fail.
Lawmakers, engineers, and federal agencies all boasted predictions about how the river would return to its natural flow, would be a better habitat for wildlife, and improve the tourism attractions for use of the river. They all got it wrong. None of their predictions came true.
Edmonson County has little to offer by way of attracting tourists if you're not talking about access to the Green and Nolin Rivers and Nolin Lake. Mammoth Cave National Park offers little to help Edmonson County and many of the visitors there spend their money in the Cave City area. The Edmonson County Tourism Commission has worked very hard to promote the lake area and river activities, such as boating, fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. However, the routes that used to have miles of beautiful landscapes and perfect places for those activities now look like abandoned war zones in some areas, thanks to the removal of the dams.
Various federal agencies have admitted that they got it wrong but they have yet to provide any real solutions. The worst part is that the local water district could be on the hook for the solutions, and they would be solutions to problems that they not only did not create, but they also weren't in favor of from the beginning.
"Behind the scenes, the Water District has worked tirelessly, and still is to figure out a way to solve these problems that we didn't create," said Commissioner Nugent. "This has been a difficult process for us here because we actually have very little control over anything. The Corps of Engineers has total control over the lake and the rivers, and anything we try to do there, we basically have to beg them."
In May of 2023, the Water District called a multi-agency meeting to discuss the critical stages of the river that were wreaking havoc on the district's intake system. The drop in water level was causing sediment and algae to harm the system, along with the pumping and filtration process. Lawmakers, federal agencies, and the media were all invited; however, the Corps of Engineers chose not to attend and didn't let the district know until the day before the meeting.
Several who attended the meeting murmured at the notion that mussels and fish were seemingly prioritized over the Water District's approximately 11K customer accounts, which equates to approximately 30K people in Edmonson, Grayson, and Hart Counties. The boat ramp at Brownsville remains inaccessible to trailers, and canoe and kayakers have to carry their vessels a long way to have access. It was discussed at that meeting that there is currently no boat ramp access from Lock #5 in Roundhill all the way to Green River Ferry.
At the time, the U.S. COE emailed us two statements regarding questions raised at the meeting.
“Green River Dam No. 5 removal efforts were temporarily suspended in July 2022 due to concerns from the Edmonson County Water District regarding water levels. We fully understand the concerns from ECWD, and their water supply remains of utmost importance. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District, in partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy, have worked collectively over the last year to perform additional surveys, data analysis and additional modeling to further analyze the effects of dam removal on water levels in the river under varying conditions. We will continue coordination with ECWD in the coming weeks. USACE is committed to keeping our stakeholders and the public informed as we collectively move forward.”
"The information you have surrounding The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District’s participation in Edmonson County Water District’s public meeting yesterday is not accurate. The Corps has been in frequent communication with ECWD and has worked collaboratively with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy over the past year to perform additional surveys, data analysis and additional modeling to further analyze the effects of dam removal on water levels in the river under varying conditions. We will continue coordination with ECWD in the coming weeks. USACE is committed to keeping our stakeholders and the public informed as we collectively move forward."
Later, the Corps scheduled their own meeting with many of the same agencies and water district personnel, but no media was invited. At the time, the water district told the Edmonson County Fiscal Court that the only thing locals could really take from the latter meeting was that the Corps had no real solution or funding commitment at that time. Nothing much has changed since then.
Nugent said yesterday that they have held dozens of meetings to work on this issue, but that water customers really can't put into perspective how hard the district fought for locals, and the things for which they continue to fight.
"Right now, our water levels are not ideal, but adequate, but again, this is only temporary and we have to have a long term solution. I will say that Representative Brett Guthrie's office has really been fighting for us, and State Representative Michael Meredith has attended every meeting and fought for the water district customers. And that's not to say the other lawmakers haven't. They all see the need here, but we really appreciate what Brett Guthrie and Michael Meredith have done."
In addition to Sanders stepping down, Water Commissioner Barry Rich's term on the board expired. Since a motion to keep him on the board was not seconded, he is no longer a commissioner.
"Sadly, in my opinion, we've lost a tremendous asset by losing Barry," Nugent said. "Barry is probably single-handedly the reason that the removal of Lock #5 was temporarily stopped. He actually saw the crucial water levels at the time and got others on board to stop it."
Sanders submitted an open letter to the Edmonson Voice regarding his resignation.
It has been my honor serving as Manager the past 10 years and working for the Edmonson County Water District for nearly thirty years. On January 9th, I requested that the Board of Commissioners accept my resignation as Manger. An opportunity opened in a different role at the Water District. I will continue to serve as Manager until a successor is found by the Board of Commissioners.
I would like to take this opportunity to share a bit of information about some of the projects with which the Water District is currently involved. The Water District has received funding to do upgrades to the system through the State Cleaner Water program as well as ARPA funds through Edmonson and Grayson County Fiscal Courts. The Board and I have worked diligently with federal, state, and local officials to try and secure funds, and find a viable solution that has resulted with the removal of Locke and Dam # 5 on the Green River. This is a situation that the Water District is not responsible for and does not believe that it is the responsibility of the Water District to fund or to require our customers to pay for. Land has been procured for a new Water Treatment Plant at Wax and applications for funding have been applied for but has yet to be granted. This is a large project that will take an estimated five to seven years to complete and will require funding from more than one source in both grant and loans. We are working with neighboring Water Districts to install lines to connect with their systems to purchase water when needed. I greatly appreciate the managers and their respective boards for their cooperation and willingness to help. We have met with Governor Beshear and are working with our state legislators seeking funding for an 8” line and pump station to connect with Grayson County Water District.
I want to thank all the people in Edmonson, Hart, Grayson, and Warren counties in the Water District's service area for their support during my tenure. I have made many friends and acquaintances that I will never forget. I would also like to thank all past and present Board members and my predecessor for giving me the opportunity to serve as manager. I also want to recognize and thank all my loyal and dedicated staff. It is not always easy to be employees of a water utility. Many hours are often spent away from home and family. When a line breaks, it is their duty to answer the call despite hour of the day or type weather, do repairs and restore service to customers. Treatment plant operators are required to man the plants days, nights, weekends, and holidays. The office staff is the hub that keeps the wheel rolling. They are often met with challenging and unpleasant situations. Without their dedication and hard work there would have been no chance that I could have stayed in this position all these years.
Sanders has handled many complaints and has been the face of the district through their issues over the past few years, most of those being out of his control. He always publicly handled them with professionalism and always seemed to remain even keeled through the issues, even though they likely kept him up at night.
Nugent said on top of the water level problems, a huge increase in contractor work in the county has led to broken lines, causing delays to water customers, in addition to boil water advisories. New housing developments, fiber lines, gas and sewer, have all brought a large increase of digging in the county. He also added that the constant mapping and marking of water lines by the district, required by the new contracting projects, has taken some employees away from their regular maintenance and repair work at times.
Nugent also said the Water District was losing another "great asset" in Tony Sanders as manager.
"I certainly appreciate what Tony Sanders has meant to not only the Water District but the people of Edmonson County for the past 28 years. He probably knows more about our local water system than anyone else. He started at the bottom all those years ago and worked his way up, doing about every job there is here. We are going to miss him as the manager."
Nugent said the district has been plagued with other issues as a result of the water levels, one being less volume of water.
"The flow is still the same, but it's less volume-- it's less water, and it makes it much more difficult to treat. Imagine placing a drop of food coloring into a large tank of water, and then placing that same drop into a small cup of water."
He compared the food coloring to the substances that need to be filtered. If you drop the color in a small cup, the whole cup becomes a new color and what is necessary to "undo" that becomes much more involved than a large tank of water with the coloring, which wouldn't take as many resources. Those resources are the sole responsibility of the Edmonson County Water District.
Nugent said the district would start advertising for a new manager immediately and that Sanders would remain until a replacement is found.
There is still no current solution in place for the river level issues.