By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
$90 million for Chattahoochee River? It’s possible with bill moving through Congress
03102021 LAKE 3.jpg
The Chattahoochee River feeds into Lake Lanier and continues south below Buford Dam toward the Gulf of Mexico. - photo by Scott Rogers

Up to $90 million might be flowing to the Chattahoochee River in coming years.

The Chattahoochee River Act, a bill moving through the U.S. House and Senate, would direct the Army Corps of Engineers to work with state and local governments, as well as advocacy groups, to develop the Comprehensive Chattahoochee River Basin Restoration Plan. 

The plan would provide design and construction dollars for “water-related resource protection and restoration projects” affecting the Chattahoochee River Basin, according to a press release from U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee.

The watershed extends from Northeast Georgia to Florida, crossing into Alabama. Lake Lanier, which follows much of Hall County’s western boundary, is part of the headwaters.

The political process is still early, but the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted May 4 to advance the bill, being pushed in that chamber by Sen. Jon Ossoff. 

"I'm reaching out across the aisle to build the bipartisan coalition in the Senate that I need to pass this legislation,” Ossoff said in a press release.

The bill would authorize up to $90 million to be spent on projects set by the plan, with no more than $15 million on any single project. The plan must be completed within two years of the bill’s passage.

The U.S. government would provide 80% of funding, with non-federal sources, such as state and local governments, making up 20%, according to the bill.

The Chattahoochee River Act “could provide critical financial support for efforts related to the Chattahoochee River, including Lake Lanier,” said Linda MacGregor, director of Gainesville’s Department of Water Resources. “We are hopeful that this bill could provide additional support for our ongoing efforts associated with these valuable resources, including our water supply.”

Chris Manganiello, water policy director for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, which has a Gainesville office, said he’s personally excited about the potential for ecosystem restoration projects.

“It’s a broad category of things that we could sort of couch as water quality projects, such as reducing nonpoint source pollution and reducing nutrients in Lanier and all the reservoirs,” he said.

Nonpoint sources are less identifiable areas, such as pastures that may be near creeks or streams.

“Things to protect water quality and water supply could ultimately get funded” through the program,” Manganiello said.

Also, “the way the act is written, you could potentially include land acquisition” that could lead to more public space, he said.

Rena Ann Peck, Georgia River Network’s executive director, also said that water quality issues are a priority.

“That’s pretty overarching, from making sure releases from municipal water supplies are upgraded to making sure the laws for soil and erosion control are being followed by developments,” she said.

Water quality issues have been a longstanding concern on Lake Lanier, with a 2021 report from Chattahoochee Riverkeeper saying heavy rainfall and too much fertilizer may be causing serious issues.

In recent years, chlorophyll levels at five monitoring sites between Buford Dam and Browns Bridge have exceeded state standards. Chlorophyll is the main indicator used to detect algae, which blooms as a result of excess nutrients flowing into the lake.

Too much algae in the water can “negatively affect water quality, impact taste and smell of drinking water even after treatment, raise the cost of treating water to meet drinking water standards, and cause decreased oxygen levels that fish and other aquatic life need to survive,” Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has said.

Overall, Manganiello said he believes one of the “great outcomes” of such a Chattahoochee initiative “would be to bring together state, federal and local stakeholders together to work on things that they agree upon,” Manganiello said.

“After decades of legal conflict over the Chattahoochee, collaboration would be a welcome change,” he said.