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Georgia Reservoir on Hold

September 30, 2015

Georgia River Network has argued that communities should stop throwing good money after the bad on water supply reservoir projects—particularly those disguised as amenity lakes.  Reservoirs for any purpose should be the option of last resort for forward thinking local leaders who are accountable to voters, taxpayers and utility rate payers.

With that in mind, we want to highlight a significant and recent turn of events.

In August, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to “administratively withdraw” a Section 404 permit application for a reservoir in Georgia.  And this is not just any reservoir in Georgia.  This application has been in the pipeline since 2000.  The project received a fiscal-injection—a $21,000,000 loan—from the Governor’s Water Supply Program.  Finally, Newton County’s consultant, William Thomas Craig, was the go-to consultant for reservoir projects all over Georgia until being recently released from a handful of projects.

Many of these projects have been touted by water managers and politicians as solutions to the tri-state water wars.  In the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin (ACF), Glades (Hall County) has been pitched as a flow augmentation project to benefit the Chattahoochee and water suppliers dependent on Lake Lanier.  In the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) basin, the Hickory Log Creek (Cherokee), Richland Creek (Paulding) and Indian Creek (Carroll) reservoirs have also been identified as critical tools to benefit Georgia in the state’s transboundary water conflict to the west.  Two of the three ACT reservoirs have received commitments totaling more than $100,000,000 from the Governor’s Water Supply Program.  And rumor has it Paulding County obtained a draft 404 permit from the Corps a few weeks ago.

Why was Newton County’s permit application withdrawn?  In 2014 and after fourteen years of planning, Newton County decided the proposed reservoir’s dam needed to be relocated.  This triggered a round of public scrutiny by residents concerned about the cost of the project.  Then residents discovered a water supply and management study from 2009 had been withheld from the public by Newton County’s consultant; it suggested the county’s water supply needs might have been exaggerated.  And, the Governor’s Office of Budget and Planning’s new population projections forecast years of substantially less growth.  Finally, a third party review of the reservoir proposal and current infrastructure by the local water authority revealed additional investment in existing water supply infrastructure was a better way to spend scarce resources.

Given the sheer amount of questions the proposal to move the dam generated, and doubts about the quality of information provided previously, the Corps asked Newton County to provide updates.  When the applicant missed multiple deadlines and decided not to provide updates, the Corps put the application on hold until the applicant complies with the Corps’ request.  It is important to understand the county’s permit has not been ‘thrown out;’ it’s just on ‘pause.’

The Corps’ decision sparked a round of back-and-forth between Newton County and the Corps.  Some residents agree with the Corps’ decision, and at least one cites the reservoir situation as reason to run for a seat on the county commission.

Citizens of Newton County have carried this campaign.  They showed up for public meetings, secured public documents and generated their neighbors’ interest.  This should remind us all that all politics is local.

-Chris Manganiello

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 13, 2015 8:56 am

    Chris, Your articles are always the best!

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