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Issue Brief: Glades Reservoir & A New Standard

July 19, 2011

Hall County’s Glades Farm Reservoir project has hit some interesting speed-bumps in the past few weeks according to the Gainesville Times’ Ashley Fielding.  Over the course of five years, the project increased in scale and scope, embroiled county and city officials in a local water war, and became a favorite project of the state’s leadership.  Now, Glades may symbolize a new approach to water supply planning in the state of Georgia.

Hall County recently submitted a new 404 permit to the US Army Corps of Engineers regarding the proposed Glades Reservoir project.  The Corps’ response: the project will need to include an Environmental Impact Study (EIS).  The Corps’ July 8, 2011 request is rare but not unprecedented.  According to another Fielding article, the defunct West Georgia Regional Reservoir project sank under the combined weight of an internal re-study that found the project was too big and expensive; of a Corps required EIS; and of a looming legal suit from Alabama since the reservoir would have compromised flows in the interstate Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) basin.  On another occasion, the Georgia River Network and the Altamaha Riverkeeper unsuccessfully lobbied the Corps to require an EIS for the Tussahaw Reservoir in Henry County.  So why the abrupt policy change?

Glades “is too controversial for a fast-track permit.”  It appears the Corps wants the Glades project to set a new standard for interstate water planning.  Glades is within the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) basin, upstream of the much contested Lake Lanier, and close to the heart of the decades old Alabama, Georgia, and Florida water wars.  But what will the EIS accomplish?  Perhaps the Corps wants Hall County to think about Glades’ affect on the water supply and flows throughout the entire ACF basin.  Maybe the Glades EIS would help the Corps assess Lake Lanier’s water supply capabilities – a task the U.S. Court of Appeals 11th Circuit recently handed-down to the Corps ten-days earlier that must be completed in one year.

It’s not entirely clear what the Corps’ motives are yet, how complex the EIS might be, or what fruit Hall County’s emerging protest will bear.  Hall County commissioners and even Gov. Nathan Deal claim they have been blindsided by the EIS requirement.  The Glades project, to be fair, does complicate the 11th Circuit’s instructions to the Corps.  After all, the court noted in a moment of empathy while overturning the 2009 Magnuson order: “The lack of a definitive allocation of [Lake Lanier’s] storage for water supply is explained by factors beyond the agency’s control, rather than the Corps’ inaction.” (p. 48)  In other words, the Corps’ lack of precision in determining Lake Lanier’s water supply authorization and allocation has been caused in part by a tangle of memorandums of agreement, legal suits, appeals, short-term water supply contracts, and new demands on the ACF’s limited water supplies by multiple states, communities, and stakeholders.  This is the same ruling Gov. Deal said would bring “clarity” to the tri-state negotiations and represented a great victory for all Georgians.  The court order, in my opinion, also vindicates the Corps and pushes the blame for agency “inaction” in other directions.

In the end, the water supply EIS process stands to improve stakeholder participation and the cumulative assessment of proposed reservoirs in complex working river systems.

-Chris Manganiello

For all Glades Reservoir related posts and updates, start here:

Issue Brief: Glades Reservoir & Hall County Water War

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