A proposed North Hall reservoir, discussed for years but currently at a standstill, isn’t entirely off the table.
The Gainesville and Hall County Development Authority ratified an extension of the letter of intent for the 850-acre county-owned property at its April meeting. The letter is the same from year to year but needs to be renewed annually.
Permitting work on the reservoir stopped in 2016, after the Georgia Environmental Protection Division said the proposed reservoir was not needed to meet the state’s water supply needs through 2050. Judson Turner, then-EPD director, said in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that revised population projections showed slower growth, so the new reservoir would not be necessary.
County officials disagree with those population projections and still think the reservoir is needed.
“We think when you look out to 2060 and you look at the growth, we definitely think it is going to be justified based on what population growth is going to be,” County Administrator Jock Connell said.
The county is waiting to see what happens with the “water wars” legal dispute between Florida and Georgia, Connell said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Water Control Manual update also could affect the project, he said. The manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin was last updated in 2017, and Corps spokesman Pat Robbins said updates are usually done every five years, depending on funding.
The hope is that the reservoir would provide water for Hall and much of metro Atlanta and that the county could be reimbursed by the state for its work on the project.
Connell said about $16.8 million has been spent on the project, and those expenses include land purchases, engineering, environmental studies and permitting costs. The only current expense is maintenance for a website about the reservoir for about $1,000 a year, he said.
Gainesville officials withdrew support for the project in 2016. Gainesville Water Resources Director Linda MacGregor said Tuesday that the city is still not involved.
“We have not been in any recent discussions about the county’s project on the Glades Reservoir,” she said in an email. “Should this issue come to the forefront in the future, we would entertain the county’s thoughts on our community’s long term water supply.”
There aren’t any updates with the state, either. Kevin Chambers, a spokesman for the EPD, said there has not been any activity on the project with the EPD. Shane Hix, a spokesman for the Georgia Environmental Funding Authority, said the state did not have the funding for the project and GEFA also has not had any activity related to the reservoir.
Chris Manganiello, water policy director for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said the project would be “an amenity lake that is just not needed.”
“The population projections were clearly off. The state of Georgia doesn’t believe this is necessary. The Army Corps has plenty of storage available for Gainesville and Hall County,” he said.
He said using existing resources for water needs would be more efficient.
“If the Supreme Court were to decide in Florida’s favor (in the water wars case), there’s no guarantee that Glades would be part of Georgia’s solution to the problem,” he said. “Even if, hypothetically, Florida was to come out on top in this legal case, I think there are many stakeholders around Lake Lanier that agree that it would probably be cheaper and more economical for us to figure out if there is a way to raise the level of Lake Lanier so we get more storage out of existing infrastructure.”
The reservoir would store water pumped from the Chattahoochee River and natural streamflow from Flat Creek, according to the county’s website. A pump station would be built along the Chattahoochee River, and water would be pumped to the reservoir for storage. Water would then be released from the reservoir to Lake Lanier via Flat Creek and withdrawn at one of Gainesville’s existing water intake spots.
Glades Reservoir is estimated to yield about 72.5 million gallons a day if built.
Commissioner Shelly Echols, whose district includes the site, said that the reservoir did not seem like a wise financial choice.
“A secure water source for the people of Hall County is incredibly important,” Echols said. “But I also think being a good steward of the taxpayers’ money is incredibly important as well. We’ve got nearly $17 million in this thing right now, and we’re basically no closer today than we were day one. … To continue throwing large sums of money at something that is, from what I’ve been told not likely to happen anytime soon, that’s not really a road that I want to go down.”
However, Connell said that while the county is keeping the option open, he doesn’t see the situation changing soon.
“We don’t know what tomorrow holds, but we’re not anticipating any action on this or anything new on this in the foreseeable future,” he said. “If that does happen, we will obviously respond accordingly, but I fully expect that it’s probably going to stay in its current status for some time to come.”