Issue Brief: Glades Reservoir & Hall County Water War
The controversial Glades Springs Water Supply Reservoir project in Hall County recently experienced some newsworthy developments sure to raise more eyebrows. First, some history. The 2007 plan called for a public-private partnership to complete a 733-acre reservoir along Flat Creek on property owned in-part by an Austrian family, according to the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. Water released from the dam would flow down Flat Creek into Lake Lanier and then the City of Gainesville’s water treatment plant would remove up to 4.5 million gallons per day (MGD). The project also included plans for the Austrian landowners to develop home sites around a water supply reservoir that increasingly looked like an amenity lake for a gated community. The Austrian family agreed to pay for the dam, according to the AJC, and Hall County agreed never to draw down the lake more than ten feet. This deal brought the reservoir’s water supply functions into question, not to mention why taxpayer dollars used to acquire reservoir land should subsidize exclusive shoreline development. Within two years the project morphed, according to a Corps of Engineers document, and the reservoir’s water supply production jumped to 6.4 MGD for Hall County and the City of Gainesville.
But like many things watery, plans changed quickly after Judge Paul Magnuson determined that Lake Lanier was not authorized as a public water supply source for metro Atlanta communities. That July 2009 decision threw a wrench in the gears: could Glades water still be dropped into Lake Lanier and withdrawn again for municipal water supply? In light of the decision, Hall County has upped the ante and started looking for new partners to expand the Glades project.
According to the Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman, “We’re taking [the Austrian property owners] out completely.” In the post-Magnuson waterscape, Hall County is taking the opportunity to amend permits, re-file applications, and secure additional property for a taller dam and a larger reservoir capable of producing an eye-popping 50 to 75 MGD. Perhaps the Austrian Glades Farm landowners now think water is worth more than executive mansions. Also worthy to note, Glades has sparked something of a water war between Hall County and Gainesville over water storage, transfer, treatment, delivery, and costs associated with the Cedar Creek reservoir. Should the Magnuson ruling stand, Glades water might be pumped via interbasin transfer (IBT) into Cedar Creek (Oconee River basin) where the water could be distributed to county and city customers currently served by separate systems.
Then Hall County learned in January 2010 that Forsyth County was “interested in planning the [Glades] reservoir with Hall County,” but Forsyth was not “prepared to make a financial commitment,” according to NorthFulton.Com. By way of background, the Water Contingency Task Force consultants considered Forsyth the second most endangered county next to Gwinnett in the wake of Magnuson’s order. Forsyth claims they would happily take up to 40 MGD from Glades when the project is complete. Gwinnett County, strangely silent in this affair, must feel comfortable that Magnuson’s ruling will not stand an appeal, is confident that Congress will reauthorize Lake Lanier for water supply, and/or is praying for the proposed Hard Labor Creek reservoir to come online.
The problems: First, if Glades Reservoir will release water into Flat Creek and Lake Lanier to reach Gainesville’s water pumps, then the project should be dead in the water according to the terms of Magnuson’s order. Second, negotiations between Hall County and Gainesville complicate Glades’ future. Third, Glades will ultimately reduce downstream flows, particularly during drought, and this is not good for downstream Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin stakeholders. Fourth, Alabama is watching, and the Glades issue can’t possibly help the tri-state water war negotiations (see previously mentioned AJC link).
For a Glades Farm property history, click here.
PLEASE NOTE, see also: