Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers say a draft statement of the impact of a new reservoir upstream of Lake Lanier should be complete by the end of the year.
Last week, the corps made public a number of comments submitted on Hall County’s proposal to build Glades Reservoir.
Spokesman Billy Birdwell says the federal agency will use the comments — most of them from government organizations —to guide an analysis of the proposed reservoir.
The comments show officials in neighboring Alabama and Florida are watching what happens with the project. So are leaders in the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Hall County officials want to turn a North Hall section of Flat Creek, which flows into the Chattahoochee River upstream of Lake Lanier, into an 850-acre reservoir that will quench the thirst of a population the county projects to reach 800,000.
Officials from Georgia, Florida and Alabama have dueled in court for two decades over control of the water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin. That’s a key reason the corps has submitted Glades to the scrutiny of an environmental impact statement before granting county officials permission to build the reservoir.
In the past, most reservoir projects in the state were put through a less strenuous review process.
In a letter to the corps, J. Brian Atkins, division director of the Alabama Office of Water Resources, asked that the corps’ environmental impact statement for Glades include an independent analysis of the county’s 2060 population estimate.
Atkins cited other estimates that were nearly half the county’s estimated population.
“The proposed project, which is based upon a tenuous claim of need, with the resulting sale of water by Hall County to unnamed third parties, hardly seems the kind of project that outweighs the significant environmental and economic costs associated with it,” Atkins wrote.
In their comments, both Alabama and Florida used the county’s spat with Gainesville officials over the ownership of the existing Cedar Creek Reservoir to question the viability of the Glades proposal.
Cedar Creek, in the Oconee River basin, is part of the county’s larger plan to use Glades for water supply. The county wants to pump water from Glades to Cedar Creek, where it would be treated and distributed to customers.
Officials in Gainesville, the major provider of water for the county, and Hall County have disagreed for years about who owns the East Hall lake.
That dispute also played out in comments submitted on the county’s proposal.
And a repeated concern in the comments from the basin’s stakeholders was whether Glades might sap the streamflow and limit supply for other users.
The concern came from as far away as Florida’s Franklin County, where the freshwater is vital to the Apalachicola seafood industry, and from as close to home as Gwinnett County.
Lynn Smarr, assistant director of Gwinnett County’s Department of Water Resources, wrote to the corps on April 12 of her worry that Glades would reduce the amount of water flowing out of Buford Dam.
“We understand the need for raw water supply for Hall County,” she wrote. “However, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that water supply is an authorized purpose of Lake Lanier, the largest reservoir in North Georgia.”
Franklin County, Fla., Commissioner Alan Pierce, who submitted written comments to the corps on behalf of the entire Board of Commissioners, submitted his own verbal comments at a scoping hearing in Eastpoint, Fla., near Apalachicola.
Pierce said the county should look into other water supply alternatives, including groundwater supply, before building a new reservoir.
“We are opposed to more water being pulled out of the Chattahoochee River, and we feel like there ought to be other alternatives for water supply the size of this one,” Pierce told a court reporter.
Back home, Glades has received letters of support from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.
It has the support of individuals, too. At a public scoping meeting at Gainesville State College in Oakwood, a person, whose name was not listed, hand-wrote a memo of support for the county’s plans.
“We the people of Hall County, Georgia and — the entire state of Georgia — really need this reservoir,” the supporter wrote. “This is how we can plan on water for the future. Without well-planned water systems, we could very well run into great problems with our water.”
Some federal agencies have asked for detailed scrutiny of the project before the corps considers a permit.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials and others have asked the corps to revisit Hall County’s stated needs for water after its Mobile district completes a court-ordered operating plan for the river basin.
The 90-day comment period brought other, more personal concerns, too. Some questioned whether the pipes proposed to carry water from Glades to Cedar Creek would run through their properties. They also wanted to know how much they would cost.
Roger Nott of the Georgia Canoeing Association told the corps that twice he had paddled the stretch of Flat Creek where the reservoir is planned, noting two waterfalls and the stream’s many rapids.
“It’s lovely,” Nott told a court reporter at a scoping meeting at Gainesville State College. “There’s a lot of wildlife in there, and if we were to destroy or permanently alter the stream, you’d want to do it for some strong public reason.
“This particular reservoir, though, doesn’t have much to recommend it other than from the point of view of Hall County getting control over some water. And the question is whether or not that’s needed.”
Several Hall County residents expressed concern over the cost of Glades. Among them was Oakwood Mayor Lamar Scroggs.
“This reservoir, as currently proposed, represents a significant expense on the part of Hall County, and, as far as I can tell, there is limited comment on who will pay that expense,” Scroggs wrote on Oakwood letterhead. “As the mayor of the third largest municipality in Hall County, I am concerned that this burden will fall on either Hall County taxpayers or city of Gainesville water customers.”
Scroggs added that he didn’t specifically oppose the reservoir; he only wanted to know what the fiscal impact would be.
“Especially in light of these tough economic conditions, I simply must question as to whether or not now is the time to embark on such a costly endeavor when it seems the demand for this raw water has not really been firmly established.”