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Water Warrin’ on Your N’bors

April 12, 2012

We often hear that when it comes to securing new water supplies, Georgians’ worst enemies are endangered species and environmentalists, Alabamians and Floridians, or all of the above.  Recent news reports suggests the story is far more complicated and that local water utilities, city councils, and county governments are among the hurdles that costly, time-consuming reservoir proposals must pass – and why new water supply projects can be controversial closer to home.

Glades Farm Reservoir: This proposed Hall County reservoir plan is currently out for public comment until April 17 as a part of an Environmental Impact Study process that is unprecedented in itself.  The Gainesville City council’s comments, according to the Gainesville Times, request “the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cut out a key part of Hall County’s proposal to build Glades Reservoir: Cedar Creek Reservoir.”  Cedar Creek has been at the center of this city-county feud over regional water supply for a number of years.

Hickory Log Creek Reservoir: This complete but non-operational Etowah River reservoir has dragged the City of Canton into debt after costs spiked from a projected $19 million to more than $91 million.  Canton owns a 25% stake in the project and would like their business partner – the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority – to assume full ownership of the reservoir (and the debt that goes with it).  The sticking point: how much is Canton’s share of the 414-acre reservoir worth?  That number is a moving target according to one consultant and might be only $2 million per year.  Unless the city and the water authority can agree on a value, Canton’s municipal water customers will feel the burn as rates continue to climb.

Reservoirs are usually buried in a fight.  The last local water war of note – between the City of Cumming and Forsyth County – is perhaps most instructive.  Cumming pulls and treats Lake Lanier water for distribution to city and county customers, and the relationship has been historically contentious.  The two entities are renegotiating a water supply contract and fighting over costs Cumming incurred during the 2008 drought to improve the Lake Lanier water intake.  Forsyth Commissioner Brian Tam, according to the an Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter, does see value in the existing water supply system since “building a dam [and new reservoir] would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars and constructing a pipeline to tie into the Gwinnett system or to the Chattahoochee River would cost more than $15 million.”  Tam and others recognize that options are limited and that Lake Lanier and existing reservoirs may be a better solution than taking the controversial, expensive, and time consuming new reservoir route.

These local water warrin’ trends were not lost on the Governor’s Water Supply Task Force, which commented on water supply development complexities in a December 2011 report: “Competition between neighboring communities, or between cities and counties, often discourages collaboration in the development of water supply projects,” and “Established water departments may be resistant to cooperate with adjoining systems or communities.” (page 7)

In a region popularly remembered for “southern hospitality,” the water warrin’ could be reduced considerably.  In a nutshell, the solution to the tri-state water wars and metro Atlanta’s water supply woes will not be new expensive water supply reservoirs (and the consultants who stump for them) that communities cannot afford.  The economic and environmental solution is right in front of us and can be found in existing reservoirs like Lake Lanier.  Forsyth County residents sees this, why can’t the rest of Georgia?

-Chris Manganiello

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Frank permalink
    April 12, 2012 9:05 pm

    Anyone talking about conservation? Didn’t think so.

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