New rules for reservoirs likely will not have an impact on the planned Glades Reservoir, though environmental groups are not pleased with the changes.
The board of the Department of Natural Resources voted unanimously Wednesday to approve the rules, which will take effect in about a month. The changes will require a broader review before allowing water to be taken from one basin and sent to another, a process known as an interbasin transfer. The state Environmental Protection Division will take into account a variety of factors before allowing water transfers, including the effect of taking water from the donor basin during a dry year, the impact on water quality and financial costs.
The Glades Reservoir, which will sit in the Chattahoochee River Basin, is planned to transfer water to and from nearby Cedar Creek Reservoir, which sits in the Oconee River Basin.
Harold Reheis, a consultant for the Glades Reservoir and a former Environmental Protection Division director, said the only likely impact to Glades is that more analysis will have to be developed.
"I don't see that as a problem to put the information together and I wouldn't see it as a problem for getting it permitted as an interbasin transfer," Reheis said. "I think the only impact that it would have is there would need to be a good analysis put together for the water withdrawal permits that would be associated with Glades and Cedar Creek because there will be some intermingling of Oconee River Basin water and Chattahoochee River Basin water as a result of what Hall County proposes to do with Glades and Cedar Creek."
He said interbasin transfers are nearly inevitable in Hall County, which lies in the two river basins.
"Hall County does lie in both basins, the Oconee basin and Chattahoochee basin. They do make interbasin transfers from the Chattahoochee into the Oconee basin now, have been for years as long as Gainesville has been sending water to the east side of the county," Reheis said. "The Cedar Creek Reservoir was built in part to try to use the water resources in the Cedar Creek portion of Hall County for the growth that is ultimately going to be happening there, which will help to minimize interbasin transfers that are needed in the county ultimately."
Reheis said future reservoirs will likely need to address interbasin transfers, too.
"We've got 159 counties in this state and 108 of those counties lie in two or more basins. We've got 13 river basins," Reheis said. "Now all those counties aren't making interbasin transfers and a lot are using ground water ... But there will be more counties in the future that find it necessary to make some amount of interbasin transfer."
Opponents say the rules give state officials too much discretion.
Juliet Cohen, general counsel for the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said the watchdog group does not approve of the new rules.
"We're disappointed. We worked hard and wanted the (Department of Natural Resources) board to adopt strong regulations to regulate interbasin transfers and the DNR did not," Cohen said. "What they've enacted is weak and does not require (Environmental Protection Division) to consistently evaluate interbasin transfers. This issue is going to be brought to the legislature to fill in the gaps where the DNR board failed to act."
Cohen said the organization sees two primary weaknesses with the newly adopted rules - the first being that they will only apply to new interbasin transfers and the second that they are not mandatory.
"EPD is not obligated to consider all of the scientific criteria. The way the regulations are written now relegates them now to mere guidance and that's not strong enough to give the communities in Georgia, upstream and downstream, the sense that their interest in the public resources is being protected."
Cohen said the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper believes all risks should be explored before water moves from one river basin to another.
"We're concerned about having enough water downstream for public health, industrial purposes, economic recreation, fish and wildlife. All those are interests that the public has in their waterways. Moving water around without taking into consideration those interests is irresponsible," Cohen said.
Associated Press contributed to this report.