View Mobile Site

Glades Reservoir creates ripples downstream

Ala., Fla. residents fear proposal will impact their freshwater supplies

POSTED: March 24, 2012 11:00 p.m.

While metro Atlanta is ahead so far in a decadeslong struggle over water in the Chattahoochee River basin, stakeholders downstream remain in the fight.

To them, Hall County's proposal to build Glades Reservoir to support its 2060-era population - projected at 800,000 in plans submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - feels somewhat like a dirty punch.

Just as folks in the north end of the basin have a tendency to simplify the tri-state struggle as people versus endangered species, there are those in Florida - and in Georgia cities that border Alabama - that focus on Atlanta's growth, and consequential wealth, at everyone else's expense.

Hall County officials, with access to Lake Lanier threatened by repeated droughts and lawsuits, have proposed building Glades Reservoir to provide water security in the decades to come. They say it will have little impact on downstream users.

Joe Maltese once lived in Hall County. Now a retired assistant city manager in LaGrange, he can't imagine what his former home county would look like with 4 « times the current population, other than to picture "wall-to-wall roads and rooftops."

In Apalachicola, the amount of fresh water in the bay has a significant impact on a community whose livelihood centers on the seafood harvesting industry. Residents there are wary of more upstream growth.

"A whole lot more development in that area of Georgia is not a good idea, because there isn't adequate water resources," said Lois Swoboda, a biologist and a writer for The Times in Apalachicola and Carabelle.

Bill Mahan is an agent with the University of Florida's Sea Grant extension office that works with commercial and recreational fishermen around Apalachicola Bay. He expresses a sense of irony in Georgia's backpatting over its relatively new laws mandating water conservation and simultaneous praise of development that will increase water demands, along with its tax base.

"It doesn't add up," he said.

To Maltese, much more growth metro Atlanta - and even Hall County - can put on the back of the Chattahoochee River is an issue that doesn't get raised enough.

"I question whether the average John Doe that lives in the metropolitan Atlanta area wants to see another car on the road in front of them in their daily grind to get to work, to get to the grocery store," Maltese said last week as he looked at Hall County's proposal on display at an Auburn, Ala., hotel. "At what point do we outstrip the resources we have available to sustain growth?"

It's a question Maltese said that has to be vetted regionally, "especially when you're living in an area where there's such a question about the availability of water."

Hall County's plan to dam Flat Creek and swell the swiftwater tributary into an 850-acre reservoir first must be approved by the corps.

No one yet knows what impact the proposed reservoir could have on downstream users. The county's assumptions about downstream consequences have yet to be analyzed by a third party.

The corps is embarking on a study of the possible social, economic and environmental consequences of another reservoir in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin. In doing so, it has sought the public's input on which questions to ask and answer in the study, which is required before the corps decides on granting permission for Glades.

Whether the basin can handle another draw was a repeated concern raised at corps-sponsored open houses on Hall County's reservoir plans in Auburn, Ala., and Eastpoint, Fla., this week.

Robert Esenwein, part of the team that will prepare an environmental impact statement on the Glades proposal for the corps, especially heard those concerns in Apalachicola.

"They're (saying that they're) not seeing the kinds of historic flows that they should be seeing during high rainfall events in the upper watershed," said Esenwein, an associate vice president and senior environmental planner for AECOM.

"It's because water is being taken out by other stakeholders and so they're not getting that flush of high flow down here like they think they should. So they're concerned that anything - Lanier and above - if you take it out, that's going to be a problem. They're getting less now, and then with Glades, they'll get even less. So the low flows that they're experiencing will be even lower - that's what they're concerned about."

David McLain, a representative of the Apalachicola point of view in an independent basin stakeholders group, is no different. Everyone in the bay area, he said, is "acutely aware" of being the downstream end of a large basin, and there is a sense of helplessness that comes with it.

"We're all subject to what happens upstream," McLain said. "There is a sense of impotence at being able to with confidence shape our own future without having some sort of agreement with our upstream neighbors."

With those concerns going into the public record, an environmental impact statement on Glades likely will include an increased focus on the consequences for downstream flows, Esenwein said.

"We know that the people are more interested in that than a lot of other things," Esenwein said.

The corps will collect comments until April 17. A draft of the study's results should be complete by December, said David Crosby, deputy chief of the regulatory division at the corps' Savannah district office, which is in charge of permitting Hall's plans.

But as Georgia embarks on Gov. Nathan Deal's initiative to spend $300 million on water supply projects like Glades statewide, its downstream neighbors wonder when Georgia will decide it has had enough.

The Glades proposal brings up talk of riparian water rights, a rule of proportional water sharing in which no use should come at the detriment of another user, and water as currency that can be used to transfer wealth from one part of the region to another.

Water that supports development upstream might come at a cost for developers or water-based industries downstream.

In Apalachicola and the larger Franklin County, fresh water makes or breaks the seafood industry. Swoboda, the biologist, calls the Chattahoochee-fed bay a "world-class biome" without which the industry would not exist.

"For a lot of people in this county, this is a lot of people's livelihood," Swoboda said. "This (Glades) is going to hurt the whole county."

And what if some other area downstream of Atlanta wanted to grow?

"We're not opposed to the metro area growing - the state needs a viable metro area - but we are opposed to them growing at our expense," said Dick Timmerberg, a resident of LaGrange and leader of the West Point Lake Coalition.
And McLain wonders what will happen in 50 years if, for example, Hall County does reach that projected population of 800,000 and has further plans to grow.

"How many Glades Reservoirs is Georgia going to be satisfied with?" he asks.


Contents of this site are © Copyright 2010 The Times, Gainesville, GA. All rights reserved. Privacy policy and Terms of service

Powered by
Morris Technology
Please wait ...