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Grants and Forward Thinking Prevent Sewer Backup

GENEVA COUNTY, AL – The City of Geneva is located at the intersection of the Choctawhatchee River and the Pea River with the Double Bridges Creek running inside the fork. During major flooding events, damage from sewer backup can be very common and devastating for homeowners. Preventive measures can be taken to keep it from happening.

James Dixon has worked for the Geneva Water Works and Sewer Board for 32 years. He manages the sewer plant that receives and treats sewage for the City of Geneva. The sewer plant is located in the lowest part of town, which helps avoid sewer backup but also increases the flood risk. After a major flood in 1994, Dixon started planning to avoid future damages for Geneva’s sewer system. He wanted to elevate all critical controls needed to keep the plant running in the event of flooding. He started looking for funding available to help with this project.

“I was always saying how great it would be if we had some money to stop the damage,” said Dixon.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP) is administered by the state and it is available after a major presidential disaster declaration. FEMA pays for up to 75 percent of the project cost and the applicant covers the remaining amount.

Dixon submitted an HMGP application for the elevation of the sewer plant in 2005. After it was accepted, the project was completed in 2007. It included elevating a 350 kilowatt generator with a 1,500 gallon fuel tank to keep the plant running during power outages.

The critical controls, motors, blowers, and generator are elevated five feet above the 500-year flood, which is defined as a flood that has 0.2 percent or greater annual probability of occurring.

The total cost of the project was $378,000. For many years, Geneva Water Works has set aside $3,000 a month in a reserve fund. They used those funds to cover their part of the project cost, which was $94,500.

“For a small utility company, it’s hard to save money, but you do what you have to do,” said Dixon. “We’re now working on elevating all pumping stations around the city.”

In March of 2009, the City of Geneva suffered a major flood. Many homes were damaged by floodwaters and roads were washed away. However, it was a non-event for Geneva’s sewer plant due to the HMGP grant for this elevation project.

“Dixon always has an application ready to be submitted when funding is available for mitigation,” said Margaret Mixon, Geneva County Emergency Management Director. She adds that Dixon is a good example of being proactive in looking for ways to avoid future damages in a floodprone area.