Senior political reporter Ashley Fielding is covering the Glades Reservoir hearings. Today’s story is about the hearing in Auburn, Ala. On Friday, she’ll report from Apalachicola, Fla. On Sunday, she’ll examine what’s next for the project. Follow her on Twitter @gtimespolitics.
AUBURN, Ala. - Near the middle of the Chattahoochee River basin, the idea of a reservoir on an upstream tributary raises "a lot of questions" for a few people.
"Maybe at the end of the day it's a good thing, but there's one heck of a lot of question marks," said Joe Maltese, a LaGrange resident.
Maltese was among a few people who traveled to Auburn to view Hall County's plans for damming up Flat Creek upstream of Lake Lanier. The county wants to build a reservoir to provide as much as 80 million gallons of water to county residents each day.
County officials have pitched the project as a means to meet the county's 2060 water needs. Their proposal is getting its first public airing this week as Army Corps of Engineers officials try to narrow the scope of a study into the impacts of Glades Reservoir on economic, social and environmental conditions.
That study, called an environmental impact statement, will guide the corps' decision to permit Glades' construction.
But first, the corps is seeking help from the public to determine what issues to explore when it comes to making that decision.
Already, the corps has traveled to Hall County to hear from upstream users. A third hearing today in Apalachicola, Fla., will wrap up the corps' tour, but corps officials plan to take comments on the direction of their study until April 17.
Nearly 60 people showed up to take a look at the county's plans at Tuesday's hearing in Oakwood, corps employees said.
By contrast, fewer than 15 showed up Wednesday in Auburn.
Most of them were getting their first look at the county's plans and had questions about how the county's use of the water upstream would affect them.
Sandy Abbott, a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's office in Columbus, came on behalf of the federal agency to see how the project might affect the flow of the Chattahoochee below Atlanta and eventually to Jim Woodruff Dam at the Florida line.
Just below the dam is prime spawning habitat for endangered species of mussels and fish.
"We have to get a certain amount of water over that dam to keep those mussels wetted and the sturgeon habitat wetted during spawning season," said Abbott.
Information provided by the county at this week's hearings show Glades would have a negligible impact on lake levels above the dam. But, as Abbott pointed out, those assumptions have not yet been verified by AECOM, the third party consultant preparing the environmental impact statement.
The main question Wednesday seemed to be centered on how building an 850-acre reservoir on a stream that eventually feeds into Lake Lanier and the rest of the river basin would affect life downstream.
It was a question Dick Timmerberg, also a resident of LaGrange and the leader of the West Point Lake Coalition, raised.
The West Point Lake Coalition is somewhat akin to the upstream Lake Lanier Association. West Point, unlike Lanier, originally was authorized for recreation, making the lake's level an important factor for those stakeholders.
If Glades were to become an amenity lake like West Point, then a whole new set of stakeholders would emerge that would also want a lake that stays full. That concerns Timmerberg.
"It's a limited resource, so when more and more stakeholders want bigger pieces of the pie, the pie runs out obviously," said Timmerberg. "You're potentially creating that scenario here."
Hall County owns only the 850 acres that would hold the water for the proposed Glades Reservoir, and at this point, Hall County Glades consultant Jock Connell can only say for sure that the plan for the reservoir is solely for water supply.
Plans for development around its perimeter are still uncertain.
Still, water held behind a dam is water that has a hard time traveling downstream, and Maltese argues that West Point's level, on average, already doesn't meet the minimum pool level required for recreational uses.
Having Glades could just make that minimum level even harder to reach.
"When we keep stressing (the lake) with more and more utilization upstream, it's a concern to us," said Maltese.