COVINGTON — A proposal to build a reservoir upstream of Lake Lanier in Hall County has landed on a state environmental group's list of 12 biggest threats to Georgia's waterways.
The Georgia Water Coalition, in its inaugural "Dirty Dozen" groups, included the proposed Glades Reservoir with large industrial polluters — including a textile plant blamed with the May death of 33,000 fish on the Ogeechee River — believed to be the biggest offenders of the health of Georgia's waterways.
The coalition, comprising some 180 groups across the state, released the list Saturday as part of its 10th anniversary celebration at the Georgia Wildlife Federation's Conservation Alcovy Center in Covington.
Members of the group said the report is meant to call out the "bad actors" on Georgia's waterways.
"It's the system meant to protect our rivers and streams right now that is clearly broken," said April Ingle, executive director of the Georgia Rivers Network. "These items are examples of how the system is broken."
Glades and Shoal Creek, another planned reservoir in Dawson County, were nominated for the list by Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Executive Director Sally Bethea and Joe Cook, the leader of a similar group in the Coosa River basin.
The coalition calls the two planned reservoir projects an illustration of "what is wrong with Georgia's strategy to ‘drought-proof' metro Atlanta."
"Backers of these reservoirs are using their influence to push the state to invest in unnecessary projects at great expense instead of directing limited financial resources to conservation and efficiency projects and better management of existing reservoirs that will secure the most water for the least amount of money in the least amount of time," states the report.
Members of the group expressed doubt that Glades would be permitted in fewer than five years, even with the help of Gov. Nathan Deal and the state Environmental Protection Division in the federal permitting process.
Locally, elected officials have said Deal's intervention would cut the permitting process for the reservoir to 18 months.
A spokesman for the governor declined comment Saturday.
Tom Oliver, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, agreed with the report only in part when reached for comment Saturday.
"We do need better conservation measures and utilization of water," he said.
But Oliver called the coalition's condemnation of the Glades project as a whole a "narrow idea," and said Hall County residents were lucky that the government was preparing for the county's future water needs.
"If you had the approach these people have today in the 1950s, Lake Lanier would have never been built," Oliver said. "... Would they say Lake Lanier was a bad idea?"
Commissioners Ashley Bell and Craig Lutz noted the fact that taxpayers have already spent millions on the project.
"I think it's a crime that Hall County (residents) don't have control over their own water," Lutz said.
State Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross, who was awarded the "Off the Reservation" award from Republican legislators at a summer meeting of the Republican caucus, was the keynote speaker at Saturday's coalition gathering.
Hatfield played a video from a House committee hearing in Forsyth in which fellow Republican Mark Hamilton did not allow Hatfield to submit amendments to a bill the governor supported allowing for public-private partnerships to fund reservoir projects.
The video, Hatfield said, was a "sad commentary" on the state's political system. He said it showed "people who stood in the way of real debate and real consideration of this bill."
Two other sites in the Chattahoochee River watershed also make the group's list of Georgia's "Dirty Dozen" offenders.
The coalition calls the EPD's permitting process for water withdrawals from the Flint River, which meets the Chattahoochee to form the Apalachicola River in Southwest Georgia, "out of control," and says the state agency has not adequately monitored whether enough water is released to protect the health of the Chattahoochee at Peachtree Creek, where much of Atlanta's sewage is released.
Coalition members said they plan to release the report annually to call attention to environmental transgressions related to Georgia's water.
"It is more than just a list," said Cook, of the Coosa River group. "It is a call to action."