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Report cites public concerns about water basin operation
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The potential for “significant impacts” on socioeconomics and water and biological resources were the chief concerns among people commenting on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ future operation of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.

The comments are summarized in a March “scoping” report by an Atlanta firm, Tetra Tech, on behalf of the corps.

The corps received 3,621 comments in three different formal scopings — the last one ending Jan. 14 — from 965 people, organizations and agencies on a manual update for the ACF, which includes Lake Lanier.

The federal agency is taking comments as it goes about developing a draft environmental impact statement for the manual, which will lay out congressionally authorized operating plans for the ACF.

The document, which will replace a current version put together in 1958, also is supposed to take “into account private, community, social and economic needs, and sound environmental stewardship,” states the scoping report.

“Operation of federal reservoirs in the ACF River Basin for their authorized project purposes provides multiple benefits,” including fish and wildlife conservation, flood risk management, hydroelectric power generation, navigation, recreation, water supply and water quality, the report states.

The corps spread out comments among 12 categories. Water management recommendations made up one-third of the comments, while socioeconomics/recreation and biological resources made up another third.

Socioeconomics, water resources and biological resources “should be emphasized in the EIS and should be considered in development of the recommended alternative in the master manual,” the report states.

For years, Georgia had wrestled in the courts with Alabama and Florida over whether local governments, including Gainesville, could tap into Lake Lanier for drinking water.

In June 2011, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that water supply was authorized. The U.S. Supreme Court later refused to hear an appeal from Alabama and Florida.

In the last scoping period, the corps repeated concerns, including that Lake Lanier and West Point Lake levels “are too low and too much water is released from their reservoirs,” states the scoping report.

“Users of Apalachicola River and Bay describe how they have been affected by extreme low flows.”

Lake Lanier user comments were focused on several points, including that the 5,000 cubic feet per second minimum flow into the Apalachicola River “is not representative of the true lowest historical flows in the ACF and is not sustainable.”

Other comments included:

  • Lanier was never designed to support all downstream demands and cannot be expected to because the dams originally proposed on the Flint River were never built.
  • Corps’ rules require more water to be released from Lanier than needed and do not allow as much to be stored as is possible.
  • The federal Endangered Species Act does not require the USACE to augment Apalachicola River flows above run-of-river levels, “and the practice should not be required because it depletes Lake Lanier unnecessarily.”
  • Regular navigation is no longer feasible on the ACF.

The scoping report also noted that one of the public recommendations concerning Lanier is that the lake’s summer full pool should be kept at 1,071 feet or increased to 1,073 feet. Lake Lanier advocates have long pushed for the 2-foot hike in the full pool.

The corps will continue to accept public comments during the preparation of the draft environmental document, which is set to be made available to the public for review and comment in 2014.

“Coordination with regulatory agencies and the public will continue,” states the scoping report.

Completing the EIS and updating the master manual will take about three years.

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