Opelika Utilities has a long history of providing reliable water service for Opelika and the surrounding region.
For 30 years, those efforts were led by General Manager Dan Hilyer. Matt McDougald worked with and learned from Hilyer for 13 of those years, originally as a consultant and most recently as his assistant general manager. Upon Hilyer’s retirement last month, McDougald became Opelika Utilities’ new general manager.
McDougald is a registered professional engineer with a civil engineering degree from Auburn University and more than 22 years of experience working in the water industry. He said that he looks forward to the opportunity to work with its great team, customers and area communities to build on this legacy in the years ahead.
Opelika Utilities collects, stores, treats and delivers up to 24 million gallons of water each day. It directly serve over 30,000 area residents and provide treated water to support another 75,000 customers through other municipalities and water utilities in the region.
Under the direction of the Opelika Utilities Board, it have taken a long-term view of the water needs of Opelika’s citizens and industries to ensure that the essential facilities, infrastructure and workforce are in place to reliably provide safe, plentiful water now and for the future. Opelika Utilities has two water treatment plants and approximately 190 miles of transmission lines to bring water from local lakes to its treatment plants, and then on to its customers.
The W. Warner Williams Water Resource Park at Saugahatchee Lake, which opened in May 2013, is a LEED-certified, state-of-the-art water treatment plant with administration, distribution and maintenance facilities. This facility can provide up to 8 million gallons of water per day.
The Robert A. Betts Water Treatment Plant can provide up to an additional 16 million gallons per day from Lake Harding, bringing Opelika’s total treated water capacity to nearly 24 million gallons per day. An agreement in place with Georgia Power will allows Opelika Utilities to increase the amount of water treated from Lake Harding to as much as 42 million gallons per day.
Like other water utilities across the country, Opelika Utilities must keep these facilities in good working condition while also planning for future needs and meeting stringent new regulations.
Investments in infrastructure are necessary. Growing communities require system expansion to serve new customers, and the systems and technology installed decades ago are reaching their end of life. Much of the underground water transmission pipelines, pumps and other older equipment need replacement to avoid future reliability and water quality issues — with an estimated $300 million needed in funding for these improvements over the next 20 years. Opelika Utilities is working to manage those costs for its customers and maintain a system they can count on.
Recently, it modernized the water meters throughout its system, replacing over 16,500 meters. The new meters are connected to the upgraded billing system, which will ultimately provide customers with greater control and support in tracking water use and managing accounts. As it closes out the meter replacement project, it will continue to add features to help customers with convenient ways to pay bills and receive support.
The recent billing software changes, account updates and meter change-outs have challenged its customer service team with significantly more phone calls. Consequently, Opelika Utilities is working to enhance and increase communications options for its customers.
As in the past, it recommends customers set up their online account and use balance checks, auto draft and other payment options from their account portal. Opelika Utilities recently launched a new text chat feature as well. Customers can text 334-591-3525 to chat with a customer service representative for account information between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. It also encourage customers to download the free mobile app for notifications and ease of making payments and service requests. Soon, it will also offer payment directly by phone.
During the COVID pandemic, Opelika Utilities paused service shut-offs for non-payment to help community members through the crisis. It recently resumed the policy of collecting overdue payments from customers to avoid service disruption. Customers are asked to make every effort to pay past-due amounts and contact customer service staff right away if they need assistance making this happen.
Behind the scenes, the small, experienced and dedicated workforce makes reliable water services possible.
McDougald said that he is proud to be part of that team and its unwavering commitment to serving our communities — from customer service support and water quality technicians to field crews and plant operators — working in all kinds of weather around the clock. Families, friends and neighbors use water every day, and the team at Opelika Utilities is personally invested in delivering reliable, safe water to the region it calls home.