Georgia no longer requires the proposed Glades Reservoir in North Hall County to meet the state’s water supply needs through 2050, according to the state Environmental Protection Division.
However, a door has been left open for the reservoir to be developed as additional storage to augment downstream flows on the Chattahoochee River in times of drought.
This shift could be part of a settlement in the tri-state water wars with Florida and Alabama.
In response to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers October 2015 Water Control Manual and draft environmental impact statement, EPD Director Judson Turner writes in a letter to the corps that revised population projections showing slower growth through 2050 make it “clear that Glades Reservoir is no longer part of any strategy to meet the water supply needs of the state.”
County officials disagree with these population estimates.
“I’m happy to have their input,” said Commissioner Scott Gibbs, whose district includes the reservoir site. He added the county still has the option to pursue the project as originally intended.
Turner writes that the state will work with Hall County on a revised certification of need for the reservoir, which could actually expand the size of the lake for storage, but affirms there is no outstanding drinking water need that can’t be supplied directly from Lake Lanier.
And a recent letter to the corps from King & Spalding LLP, a law firm in Atlanta representing regional water providers, including the city of Gainesville, agreed that Glades is no longer necessary to meet future supply needs.
“The (Corps of Engineers) proposed action alternative states that 40 million gallons per day of the total projected metro demand will be supplied by the proposed new Glades Farm Reservoir,” the letter states. “This water should be supplied directly from Lake Lanier instead. The proposed Glades Farm Reservoir should not be relied upon to supply any part of this demand.”
The state has requested that a total of 242 million gallons per day be available to withdraw from Lake Lanier.
Of that total, 23.3 million gallons per day will be supplied by relocation contracts for Gainesville and Buford.
“The draft EIS for Glades shows that impacts to lake levels, river flows and other measures are the same whether the 40 mgd is supplied from Glades or directly from Lake Lanier,” the letter states. “Lake Lanier should be the preferred alternative because it would be far cheaper. Reallocating storage to provide an additional 40 mgd would cost approximately $11.1 million, or about $640,000 per year over 30 years. The Glades Farm Reservoir would cost much more and would also result in unnecessary environmental impacts.”
Jason Ulseth, the lead river protection advocate and spokesman for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said the state’s potential interest in Glades to supplement regional water control presents its own problems.
“We're glad that the state is finally recognizing that Glades is not needed for water supply, but they are far from giving up on this boondoggle project,” he added. “We have Lake Lanier right here that serves that need (to augment downstream flow). Conducting a study to raise the full pool of Lake Lanier would be a far more cost-effective solution.”
Hall County has spent about $16 million on the proposed 850-acre reservoir, purchasing land and working through a yearslong application process.
The most recent timeline lists a permitting decision by the corps in October or November.
Gibbs said the county would await this decision before deciding whether to pursue the reservoir further.
County officials have previously said they hope to be reimbursed by the state if the reservoir is used for regional purposes rather than simply securing the drinking water needs of local residents.
But Commissioner Jeff Stowe said he first wants guarantees that the drinking water needs of Hall residents will be met through 2050 if the state pursues this course.
Stowe said the state could be “trying to devalue what the property is worth” by claiming that Glades is not needed for supply.
“When you’re looking to buy a car from someone, you don’t let them know how pretty the car is,” he added.
Another option to recoup this money could be selling an estimated $16 million to $17 million in mitigation rights from the land and turning it into a park.
“There is value to the site whether the lake is built or not,” Gibbs said.