Hall County officials said they want assurances and reimbursement if the state turns the proposed Glades Reservoir into a regional water supply project.
The county has sunk about $16 million into the project, acquiring land in North Hall and working through a years-long application process with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Our intention is for it to be used as water for Hall County,” Commissioner Scott Gibbs said. “If (the state) can work a way to include that into their plan, I think that’s a great idea.”
However, recent population projections, which show slower growth over the next several decades than previously thought, have called the water supply needs of Hall County into question.
And with ongoing disputes over water access between Georgia, Florida and Alabama, Peach State officials seem to have found additional uses for Glades.
Those uses include supplementing flow of the Chattahoochee River downstream of Lake Lanier, which could help meet the demands from neighboring states.
“Now the state is going to be shifting this to more of a regional water supply (project) so that they can still find a project need,” said Jason Ulseth, the lead river protection advocate and spokesman for the Chattahoochee Riverkeeeper.
Speculation that the state was moving in this direction has been rampant for weeks.
State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said last month he wouldn’t be surprised to see this turn of events.
County officials said they have received no formal communication of the state’s proposed uses for Glades beyond securing local water supply needs.
But officials acknowledged it was an inauspicious sign Hall had not yet received any funding from the governor’s water supply program for Glades, despite being eligible for tens of millions of dollars in support.
Meanwhile, money has been disbursed to similar reservoir projects elsewhere in the state.
There is also speculation that the proposed 850-acre reservoir could be expanded.
But if the state takes over Glades, county officials said they are committed to receiving “a return on our investment.”
“If they are going to use this as a flow augmentation lake, then it still doesn’t guarantee Hall County citizens water in 2050,” Commissioner Jeff Stowe said.
But Stowe also said if water allocations and financial reimbursement are made, it makes sense for the state to assume control of Glades.
“I’d much rather it be a state project if Hall County is reimbursed ... and we get our water needs met,” he said.
Ulseth, however, said the state’s new plans put the county in a bind.
“Now that the projected (water supply) need has gone down, Hall County can meet its current demands with current supplies from Lake Lanier,” he said. “So they’re in a tough position to still state that they still need this reservoir for water supply.”
Environmentalists have long criticized Glades as nothing more than an amenity lake for future residential and commercial development.
Reports that state officials want to use Glades to supplement downstream flow came as the corps held a public forum Tuesday in Gainesville on the release of a draft environmental impact statement.
The reservoir’s ultimate fate will be determined when the corps makes a permitting decision in October or November 2016.
Murrayville resident Doug Aiken said he would support the state taking over the Glades project if it meant local taxpayers were let off the hook.
“I think it would be the way to go,” he said. “This is really being built for downstream.”