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Are more dams on the Flint the answer?

Deal wants series of dams on Flint to ease dependency on Lanier

POSTED: May 4, 2008 5:01 a.m.
Kristen Morales/The Times

This map shows the dams along the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers in Georgia. U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal is calling for more dams to be built on the Flint.

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The Flint River is an oddity in Georgia. The river begins as a spring or groundwater seep underneath the runways of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The flow is channeled off the airport by large drainage pipes.

From there it meanders 350 miles in a basin that is only 212 miles in length. It has 220 miles of unimpeded flow, making it one of only 40 rivers in the U.S. with open flows of 200 miles or more.

Near Bainbridge, the Flint empties into Lake Seminole, where it joins the Chattahoochee. At the Florida line, the water flows over Jim Woodruff Dam to form the Apalachicola River.

The River and Harbor Act of 1945 authorized three power-storage reservoirs on the Flint, above Albany. They were named Woodbury No. 2, Auchumpkee Creek and Potato Creek.

The most controversial of the projects was later renamed Sprewell Bluff Dam. The project was on the fall line, where the Piedmont region gives way to the Coastal Plain.

When Jimmy Carter became governor, he successfully fought the dam project at Sprewell Bluff, a very scenic spot on the Flint. As president, Carter began a process that eventually resulted in the de-authorization of the three projects on the Flint in the Water Resources Development Act of 1986.

U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville, is drafting legislation which would reauthorize federal projects on the Flint. Deal contends that the Flint with regulated dams, could reduce dependency on Lake Lanier as the primary source of water to maintain the needed flow at Woodruff Dam.

"In 1986, no one could imagine the need we have for water supply," Deal said. "The whole dynamic of the lake and river system has changed. Population growth has been part of it, but the drought is another."

In November, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a reduction in flow to 4,750 cubic feet per second from Woodruff Dam. To maintain that flow, discharges from Lanier were needed downstream. The result drew Lanier to the lowest level since it was filled in 1957.

There are two relatively small dams on the Flint. Crisp County Dam backs up water for Lake Blackshear, an 8,500 acre impoundment owned by the Crisp County Power Commission.

The other, Albany Dam, forms Lake Chehaw, a 1,400-acre Georgia Power impoundment.

Neither of the dams offer much in terms of flood control.

In 1994 and 1998, there were major floods on the Flint. The 1994 flood followed heavy rains from Tropical Storm Alberto that submerged some cities, including Montezuma and Newton, and cause the worst flood in Albany's recorded history. Numerous counties in the Flint basin were declared federal disaster areas; at least 31 people died, including 15 in Americus and four in Albany.

A second flood in Albany in March 1998 prompted plans for a levee, which are still being argued.

Deal contends that in addition to easing the demand on the Chattahoochee, a major dam could provided needed flood control in the flood-prone lower Flint.

"One of the things that has frustrated all of us, is that we are seeing Lanier be the primary supply source for reserves to sustain the flow of water into Apalachicola Bay," Deal said.

"When we stepped back and asked some questions of the corps, we found that was not the original design. It was designed to have the augmentation of the Flint River," he said.

The corps has told Deal that from authorization to completion typically takes 15 years. However, Deal believes some of the planning and data used for the 1946 authorization could be used if Congress gave the green light to resuming the development of reservoirs on the Flint.

The Sprewell Bluff project, was designed to have a drainage area of 1,210 square miles, about the size of Lake Allatoona. It was to have 195,010 acre-feet of flood storage and 241,510 acre-feet of conservation storage. The 36,805-acre development was estimated to cost $110 million in 1971.

Just eight miles south of Sprewell Bluff, was the site for Lazer Creek Dam. The project, also on the fall line, would have had a larger drainage area of 1,400 square miles. The 24,425-acre project was estimated at $84.5 million in 1971.

Using the Consumer Price Index as a guide, the cost of the larger project would be $563 million in 2007 dollars.

No details were available on the third proposed dam, later known as Lower Auchumpkee Dam.

Deal has not determined whether the reauthorization would cover all three of the formerly proposed projects.

"I think we're at a point in time that we need to go back and look at these as alternative reservoirs," Deal said. "They could certainly take some of the pressure off Lanier. I think it's time we recognized that the drainage basin that supports Lanier is so small that it can't afford to be the only holding reservoir."

Deal predicts there will be regional differences on his proposal.

"But the reality is that we are all in this together. Nature has shown us that it is not realistic for Lanier to be the primary resource," he said.

State Rep. Bob Hanner, R-Parrott, whose South Georgia district includes a major section of the Flint, declined to comment on the proposal.

"I haven't heard talk about those projects for years," said Hanner, who is the former chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and has been a major player in discussions regarding water.



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