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Dunlap: Where will we get our water?

Plans for new reservoirs to balance life, environment for the next generation

POSTED: March 21, 2010 1:00 a.m.
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Kit Dunlap

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Like the shot heard round the world, Judge Paul Magnuson's federal court decision last summer sent huge waves through Lake Lanier and Gainesville-Hall County, forcing us to push our plans for future water needs into fast forward.

All of a sudden, our local timetable shrunk from 50 years down to 10 years — the quickly closing window for finding additional water for this region, which happens to be one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. Keep in mind that we'll need this extra water even with the aggressive water conservation targets currently in place.

Fortunately, our local government leaders had the vision long ago to secure and complete the Cedar Creek Reservoir in East Hall, and when the federal ruling was announced in 2009, we were already way down the road toward applying for a new water source from the proposed Glades Reservoir. Both projects also have been part of our long-term plans under the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, on which I have the pleasure to serve as chair.

Now, with Magnuson's deadline looming, Hall County is looking to secure even more water from Glades under an ingenious plan to pump water from the Chattahoochee River, upstream from Lake Lanier.

Engineers also are studying ways to link Glades and Cedar Creek together with one water treatment facility in an effort to reduce redundant construction and operational costs.

Once the Glades application is filed, you can be assured the plans will be studied under a microscope to meet stringent environmental standards of the state Environmental Protection Division and Department of Natural Resources as well as federal authorities under the Clean Water Act. Although studies are not yet complete, I have no doubt, based upon original plans for the Glades, that we will meet all such requirements, ranging from clean water and species protection to minimum flow standards for the Chattahoochee.

Still, you can't please everyone, and most certainly that includes some environmental groups who traditionally oppose any reservoir on the basis that it disrupts the natural flow of a stream or river. These environmental concerns are understandable, but there needs to be a proper balance — and certainly a dose of sanity. We must have water for life, for future generations, and for our economic livelihood. And we can achieve all of this in an environmentally responsible manner, including adherence to the federal wetland and stream mitigation rules for offsetting the impacts of reservoirs.

Our community is divided by a ridge line that basically follows the Interstate 985/Ga. 365 highway through the heart of Hall County. On the east side, water flows into the Oconee basin; on the west, it runs into the Chattahoochee basin. Because of this geography, there entails what is known as an inter-basin transfer — pumping of abundant drinking water from the Chattahoochee basin over to the Oconee basin, where water is less plentiful. This unnatural movement of water is another concern of environmentalists opposed to interfering with Mother Nature.

However, when Cedar Creek is eventually tapped for water, it will help minimize the need for inter-basin transfers to serve the residents and businesses of East Hall. This truly sets up a strategic balance of water supply between the two basins for our future.

The clock is ticking (two-and-a-half years and counting) on Judge Magnuson's heralded deadline to work out our state's water-sharing dispute with Florida and Alabama. But fortunately for our community, we are in the driver's seat — much more so than our neighbors to the south — to seize control of our destiny with a coordinated plan for the Glades and Cedar Creek reservoirs. Our local leaders also are wisely negotiating with nearby communities to sell reservoir water that will help pay for these projects.

The recent rains that filled the lake may have fogged our memories of droughts, but we must never forget the responsibility to our children. We can do this, and will do this, with all of us working together - local governments, environmental groups, and state and federal authorities - to secure precious water in Gainesville-Hall County for the next generation and beyond.

Kit Dunlap serves as president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and chair of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.



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