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Reservoir Reality Check

February 18, 2011

An AP story this week – which ran in practically all the major papers in the state – puts a distinct question-mark on Gov. Nathan Deal’s reservoir-building plan. As an example, the article uses Canton’s Hickory Log Creek Reservoir, which “took years to finish and was expensive, running $75 million over original budget estimates,” the AP reports.

The point is a general one: new reservoirs take years to build and are very expensive – even without cost overruns, which are often more the rule than the exception. The question before Georgians today on water issues is largely one of public spending priorities.

Be sure to give that story a read. In other news, the Athens Banner-Herald has an update on the foundering Hard Labor Creek Reservoir project, whose backers are looking to Atlanta for what could easily be called a bailout for a failed endeavor. As we’ve noted before, the story of the Hard Labor Creek project stands as a cautionary tale with broad applicability when it comes the financial side of lake-building.

In a nutshell, Hard Labor Creek is on the rocks because the new water customers who were supposed to pay off its debt have not materialized. (The shame of it all is that existing customers are paying that bill.) Demand projections were overblown. And if the project is in trouble because its presumed water demand does not exist, then should it even be built? It’s clear from the numbers in the Banner-Herald story that even an infusion of state money can’t save this project. Can’t Georgians statewide avoid repeats of this story by accepting a reality check on reservoirs?

One more important note: Hard Labor Creek backers suggest in the story that their project has “political advantage” at the money trough because it’s in a river basin that doesn’t cross any state lines on its way to the sea. The issue here is interbasin transfer, and the assumption – frankly, an offensive one – is that downstream Georgians have no seat at the table.

Then again, this project’s proponents seem to be grasping at straws. For example, does anyone really think that Gov. Deal’s reservoir money will magically turn from bonds into grants?

-Ben Emanuel

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