Georgia’s April 1 monumental win in the long-running water wars with Florida doesn’t mean an end to challenges facing Lake Lanier.
More potential litigation, water storage, water quality and safety are some of the many issues involving the 34,000-acre reservoir that hugs much of Hall County’s western boundary.
Georgia’s victory in a U.S. Supreme Court case in which Florida had alleged “overconsumption” by Georgia, as well as the future of Lake Lanier, were explored in a virtual meeting held by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, June 16.
The main speaker was Katherine Zitsch, managing director of the Natural Resources Group at the Atlanta Regional Commission.
Here are a few takeaways from the session:
More court action on the way
A court case is moving through the federal system involving the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin, which straddles Georgia, Florida and Alabama and with Lake Lanier in the headwaters.
Alabama and several advocacy groups have sued the Army Corps of Engineers on the way it operates the basin along the Chattahoochee River, Zitsch said.
The suit focuses on how the corps balances uses, including water supply for metro Atlanta. A water supply contract between Georgia and the corps addressing water needs through 2050 “could get overturned” if Alabama and the groups prevail, Zitsch said.
“I would expect oral arguments to happen in the fall, maybe early winter, and a ruling shortly thereafter,” she said.
Water quality is a constant concern
What flows into the water, such as fertilizers and other nutrients, is a big environmental concern.
“We need to protect Lake Lanier from algal blooms, especially harmful ones,” Zitsch said. “Once you lose a lake, it’s hard to get it back.”
Heavy rainfall and too much fertilizer may be causing serious water quality problems for Lake Lanier, according to environmental watchdog group Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.
Over the past two years, chlorophyll levels at five monitoring sites between Buford Dam and Browns Bridge have exceeded state standards, the group said in a March report.
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 said.
Tennessee River as a water source?
Claims that bad surveying may have kept the Tennessee River out of Georgia have surfaced as an issue over the years but never has gained much traction.
Zitsch expects that to continue to be not much of an issue.
“I think we need to plan on our water from our own backyard,” she said. “In order to get a water withdrawal permit, we would need (the Tennessee Valley Authority) to approve it and I would find (chances) slim to none.”
“I think we need to not think of the Tennessee River. We have ample supply (in Georgia), as long as we’re using it wisely,” Zitsch said.
Raising Lanier’s full pool remains an issue
Raising Lake Lanier’s full pool level by 2 feet has also been a longstanding issue. Lanier’s summer full pool is 1,071 feet above sea level and winter full pool is 1,070 feet.
Zitsch said she’s in favor of studying the issue.
“The challenge with raising (the level) is that it will cause additional flooding and impacts to everybody who lives on the lake,” she said. “But we need to study it, because if we find we can mitigate damage to local properties and doesn’t increase flooding risks, that 2 feet is a lot of water.”
Zitsch said there is widespread agreement to raising the level. Disagreements lie in “where does that (additional) water go? Does it get allocated to environmental needs downstream, does it sit in the lake all the time to keep levels up for recreational purposes?”
Glade Farm a player?
The Glades Reservoir 850-acre reservoir project with Glade Farm and the Gainesville and Hall County Development Authority is still on the table but not making any progress.
It’s “still on hold,” said Richard Higgins, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners.
In February 2021, the commission moved to extend its 10th letter of intent with Glade Farm LLC and Hall County to continue the project.
Permitting work on the reservoir, named for Glade Farm in North Hall, started to cool off in 2015 after the Georgia Environmental Protection Division decided the reservoir wasn’t needed to supplement Hall County’s or metro Atlanta’s drinking water supply.