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Project Big Water & Hartwell Lake

June 16, 2010

On Friday May 14, 2010, South Carolina officials officially welcomed the First Quality Enterprises, Inc. family to Georgia’s other shared river basin: the Savannah.  Weeks later, the New York-based health care services and manufacturing corporation announced their plans to bulldoze portions of the old BASF-Shaw plant on site and build a new paper production facility.  They promise to create 1,000 jobs over the next decade and spend upwards of $1 billion in the process.

Water Quantity: First Quality Tissue – codenamed “Project Big Water” by the Anderson County government – was apparently drawn to Anderson because of the plant’s proximity to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ managed Hartwell Lake.  The tax incentives, rail road connections, and energy deal with Duke Energy probably didn’t hurt either.  The plant will initially draw more than 1.2 million gallons per day (MGD) from the Anderson Joint Regional Water System, which has a standing permit and authorization to withdraw water from the federal reservoir.  As the company expands production, they will treat “raw water” from Hartwell in an on-site facility and consume a grand-total of 2.4 MGD.

Food for thought: First Quality announced plans in July 2009 to open a new plant, and in February 2010 the company was weighing sites in Anderson and Augusta (Ga.) before officially pulling the trigger in May 2010.  Given all of the incentives South Carolina used to woo First Quality, it would be highly speculative to suggest that Georgia’s December 2009 rumblings about a 100 million gallon a day interbasin transfer (IBT) from Hartwell to metro Atlanta played into First Quality’s recent decision.  After all, one potential Augusta site provided access to well water (though it’s not clear how much), according to Development Authority of Richmond County director Walter Sprouse.  However, I can’t help but wonder if the IBT threat was among the reasons that influenced First Quality’s decision to abandon Augusta.  The Georgia city is downriver from Hartwell and only miles from the Southern Company’s nuclear fueled Plant Vogtle.  Is this decision evidence that IBTs – or even the mere threat – can damage downstream economic development?  Did Georgia’s state delegation know about First Quality’s interest in Augusta, and could this be part of the reason they fought for IBT regulation during the 2010 legislative session?

Water Quality: Regardless of where First Quality landed, the Savannah River basin’s industries and municipalities will have to improve the quality of their future waste-water discharges.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is drafting new Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) standards to reduce oxygen depletion in the Savannah River and Harbor.  Rob Pavey explains what this means for Augusta and the river in this Chronicle piece.  In Anderson, First Quality will operate its own waste management facility before discharging up to 500,000 gallons per day of treated waste water into the tributary system that drains into the Corps-managed Lake Russell.  That water will flow downstream to Augusta.

-Chris Manganiello

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