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Glades Reservoir must meet new rules for state funding
Guidelines allow Georgia to direct use of water in exchange for investment
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Hall County is preparing to address new criteria in its application for Glades Reservoir funding from a state investment program.

The state wants to direct the use of the water instead of being repaid on its financial investments in projects across the state. The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority sent Ken Rearden, Hall County director of Public Works and Utilities, a letter with the new guidelines earlier this month for the Governor’s Water Supply Program. The response from the county is due Oct. 10.

Securing access to more water may give the state government more bargaining chips as it negotiates long-running water disputes with neighboring Alabama and Florida.

The program has delayed announcing the awards, which was scheduled for late summer, to the Nov. 6 board meeting of the Department of Community Affairs.

Glades Reservoir, which is estimated to cost $130 million, is a proposed 850-acre reservoir in the upper Chattahoochee River basin in North Hall that could provide 30 to 40 million gallons of water per day to Northeast Georgia residents. The county is asking for $14.5 million from the state program.

State officials are considering how to award roughly $44 million overall in project funding. The new criteria was developed by GEFA, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and Gov. Nathan Deal’s office.

Historically, state water funding has helped local communities meet local water needs, not statewide or regional purposes.

Shane Hix, GEFA public affairs director, said previously the state would take ownership in a physical asset of the project, such as a treatment facility or well, and then lease it back to the community. After a set number of years, such as 40, the community would buy back the ownership.

“It kind of acted as a loan with one balloon payment at the end, after 40 years,” Hix said. “Now the state, in exchange for the investment, is looking at how to utilize yield capacity or flow from the water supply projects to meet those needs of state significance.”

Those needs are drought mitigation, water supply, water quality protection, endangered species protection and flow augmentation. The location and function of the project will be evaluated as part of the application process, according to state guidelines.

“(State direct investment) may be instrumental in addressing regional or interstate water issues that may not be fully addressed through traditional local initiatives,” the guidelines state.

Georgia continues to be embroiled in nearly 20 years of litigation with Florida over water usage in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which includes Lake Lanier at its northernmost end.

Lake Lanier, the main drinking water source for metro Atlanta as well as Hall County, has been the focal point of “water wars,” which also have included Alabama. Leaders in both states accuse Georgia of taking too much water, leaving too little for wildlife, people and industries downstream.

Judson Turner, director of the EPD, said recently that new reservoirs and wells should be designed to meet as many needs as possible since building infrastructure is costly and only so many reservoirs can be placed on the land.

“The great irony of all of this is that people bristle at the thought of building reservoirs, but everyone knows that in order to share in times of drought, the bank account needs to be as big as it can be,” Turner said. He compared reservoirs and wells to a bank account that can be filled when rain is flush.

Hall County officials will have to show the Glades project can meet several criteria. The county must be financially healthy, submit the risks and cost-effectiveness of the project and show it will serve a state need and when the state will benefit.

Bad debt for the past four years is listed on the county’s GEFA application as zero in fiscal year 2009 and $21,982 in 2012. Average collection days vary over the years from 30 days to 43 days.

Rearden said the county is working on its response to the new criteria.

Matt Harper, GEFA senior water supply program manager, met this week with Rearden and a county consultant to discuss the new criteria, the timeline for evaluating the applications and awarding funding, Hix said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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