Public Resources, Private Dreams
These days, community leaders face an uphill battle when they attempt to justify new water supply reservoirs like Richland Creek or operate existing ones like Hickory Log Creek. In many ways, the challenges are of their own – or their colleagues’ – making.
Georgia – and the entire southeast for that matter – is once again sinking into “exceptional” drought as the region’s historic water scarcity problem reemerges. And upon closer inspection of some of the proposed solutions, one discovers that the old and new justifications for reservoirs and artificial lakes have shifted over time. Furthermore, many of these boondoggles also have serious conflicts-of-interest.
Hard Labor Creek Reservoir: In 2004, the Walton County Authority’s lead consultant claimed population projections painted a grim picture of looming water shortages in the region by 2015, according to the Walton Tribune. That, of course is not the reality for Walton and Oconee counties today. Furthermore, selling HLC to the local community did not go over so well. In the words of one disillusioned Walton County resident, “the shenanigans, the politicians that bought up the land because they knew what was going on before the homeowners did…just left me and a lot of other folks really frustrated.” According to the Walton Tribune, county and water authority commissioners purchased land in and around the reservoir site while their local government and authority began the reservoir planning process. As such, community leaders muddied the justification by mixing a community’s real needs with their own insider-business decisions.
South Fulton: This proposed reservoir also bares the hallmarks of an amenity lake disguised as a drinking water supply source. A single landowner controls the property around the reservoir site, according to the Newnan Times Herald. The project also includes a wetlands mitigation plan to off-set the loss of wetlands, and this process got messy because the owner of one mitigation site also happens to be a Georgia Board of Natural Resources member, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
Glades Reservoir: Glades is not a drinking water supply project. Glades Reservoir is only designed to function as a stream flow augmentation project like the Hickory Log Creek Reservoir. (And, it’s worth noting, Hickory Log Creek cannot begin operations because the Corps has not determined how monitor or account for the releases.) Read this operational description, or for the visual learner, check out slides 18 and 24-26 on the Glades Reservoir Environmental Impact Statement website. This means that the Glades Reservoir itself will never deliver a single drop of drinking water to a single customer in Hall County or the City of Gainesville. But even before Glades was masquerading as a water supply reservoir, the project always anticipated land development around an amenity lake. To this day, Hall County reportedly has an obligation to build Glades “as part of a zoning agreement with developers of the planned Glades Farm development,” according to the Gainesville Times.
While many of these actions and relationships are not illegal, taxpayers should think long and hard about subsidizing private development. Tying private money and dreams to taxpayer funded projects by linking a population explosion with water scarcity is just a scare tactic.