Looking ahead: Water
Each day this week, The Times will preview coming changes in a top issue in Northeast Georgia. Today, a look at water, with a focus on funding for the planned Glades Reservoir, continued negotiations over Cedar Creek Reservoir and changes in management for Lake Lanier.
For the next few years, at least, water supply will be a top priority for local and state officials.
In January, local water authorities can begin competing for some $300 million that will be available in state funding for water supply projects over the next several years. Awards for those projects, which have been billed as an initiative to secure the state's future water supply, are expected in June.
At about the same time, Georgia should know what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' plan is for the future of Lake Lanier, currently the largest source of water for Hall County and metro Atlanta.
But as state officials look to future sources of water, Hall County officials will continue to hold their noses to the grindstone on a plan to build a regional reservoir upstream of Lake Lanier, Glades.
While a decision on a permit to build Glades Reservoir from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers likely won't come before the end of 2012, Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton says planning for the reservoir will still top the list of water priorities for Hall County this year.
"That will continue to be the most prominent item regarding water from our perspective," Knighton said.
Hall County's Board of Commissioners recently approved a contract to pay as much as $1.53 million to AECOM, an engineering, design and program management company, to prepare an environmental impact statement that will help federal permitting officials determine whether to approve the
construction of the proposed reservoir.
Glades, if approved, could provide as much as 80 million gallons of water to Hall County each day.
It would be formed by the construction of a dam on Flat Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee River upstream of Lake Lanier.
Because of the proposed reservoir's close connections with the embattled Chattahoochee River, which has for years been involved in a tri-state water struggle between Georgia, Florida and Alabama, the corps has deemed it too controversial for a fast-track permit, calling for the in-depth environmental impact study.
Preparing the statement will likely take at least 18 months. And as AECOM works at the corps' direction to prepare it, county officials will continue to explore ways to fund the reservoir's construction, Knighton said.
Estimates for construction costs are still a moving target but number in the hundreds of millions.
With AECOM taking the lead in the process for permitting Glades, Knighton says residents can expect county officials to make a decision on the role of current reservoir consultants, Tommy Craig and Joe Tanner and Associates, in the next 45 days.
The county currently pays an average of $65,000 each month to keep those consultants on retainer.
Knighton says county staff is currently evaluating whether the costs are still necessary now that AECOM is on the payroll.
The county's plan for the future Glades Reservoir is tied to an existing reservoir in East Hall, Cedar Creek.
Gainesville, which serves as the water purveyor for most Hall County residents, spent $2 million this year designing a water treatment plant at Cedar Creek, which was named as the county's first back-up water supply when a 2009 court ruling threatened to severely limit the city's access to Lake Lanier.
Gainesville had planned to complete construction on the treatment plant by October 2012, but put construction plans on the back burner when an appeals court reversed the 2009 ruling.
But the reservoir isn't at the back of local government officials' minds. Both officials from Hall County and Gainesville say they are committed to reaching an agreement on the ownership of the reservoir. For more than two years, the two governments have disagreed over ownership of Cedar Creek and the implications of a 2006 lease-management agreement the two signed.
Gainesville's Mayor Ruth Bruner has asked county officials to resume a mediation process over the reservoir's ownership. The county is still formulating its response to the city, Knighton said.
And the corps, too, is still formulating its response to a summer court ruling over access to Lake Lanier.
Along with money for water supply, 2012 will also bring at least a preliminary decision on who should be able to use the lake for water supply and how much of it they can use.
Earlier this year, when the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the 2009 ruling, declaring that water supply was an originally intended authorized use of Lake Lanier.
The 11th Circuit has told the corps to determine the limits of that authorized use.
The corps' initial work must be completed in June.
And Kelly Randall, director of Gainesville's Public Utilities Department, says his water year will mostly revolve around that answer from the corps.
The city's water supply, at this point in time, is solely reliant on Lake Lanier. The city pulls an average that ranges between 15 and 18 million gallons of water each day from the lake to supply Hall County and its industry with water.
"We're looking forward to the culmination of many years of litigation as far as what the Army can provide to metro Atlanta and indeed Gainesville-Hall County and the operations of Lake Lanier..." Randall said.
"I expect that the determination will be that there's adequate water in Lake Lanier for many years to come for metro Atlanta and the direct withdrawers from Lake Lanier...I'm hard-pressed to see a black cloud hanging over that ruling."