DAWSONVILLE — Long before a federal judge threatened to limit water withdrawals from Lake Lanier, officials with the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority had begun making plans to build a reservoir in Dawson County.
Last week, the authority unveiled plans to join with an Atlanta developer to dam a portion of Shoal Creek, a tributary of the Etowah River. The proposed reservoir, covering about 2,000 acres in Dawson Forest, would supply drinking water to the area, as well as Atlanta.
The area is part of 10,000 acres the city of Atlanta bought in the early 1970s as a potential site for a second airport.
The authority, which serves Dawson County, began working with Republic Resources Inc. of Atlanta about a year ago.
The developer wants to buy the entire site from the city through an intergovernmental agreement with the authority. Atlanta City Council will consider the measure next week. A second hearing is scheduled for October.
State Sen. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, said he is encouraged at the prospect of the new reservoir.
"This is not rocket science," Pearson said. "We should have done this a long time ago."
Pearson was approached by a different developer two or three years ago about the same site.
"Now we’re at a place where water is no longer going to be cheap," he said.
The reservoir, which would generate about 100 million gallons of water per day, is expected to cost between $550 million and $600 million.
The project also includes a 100 million gallon per day water treatment plant.
"We knew we couldn’t do this by ourselves," said Brooke Anderson, the authority’s general manager.
The reservoir would serve Dawson, Forsyth, Cherokee and Pickens counties. Pipes would also run south to supply water to Atlanta.
The remaining 8,000-acre tract would be preserved in its natural state.
Dawson County District 1 Commissioner Gary Pichon said he is behind the project and suspects the other commissioners will be as well, if the county is involved "in what happens to the other 8,000 acres."
"Not only is this positive in that we’re finding a new water supply, this could be a real opportunity for Dawson County," he said.
Both Pichon and Commission Chair Mike Berg have talked at length about Dawson Forest’s potential as a "grand" park for North Georgia.
The site is the largest contiguous forested area in North Georgia not owned by the state or federal government.
At one time, the area was a nuclear aircraft testing facility, but is now maintained as a wildlife management area by the Department of Natural Resources.