Advocacy groups interested in Lake Lanier’s waters are looking at putting in another two cents’ worth on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ updated management document for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin.
“Every time we have an opportunity to comment on something like this, we try to do it,” said Sally Bethea, executive director of Atlanta-based Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.
Bethea said she sees her group reiterating previously made points, such as making maximum water conservation and efficiency a top priority. And, as the corps will decide water supply allocations for metro Atlanta, “we believe that should be guided by good, recent, scientific information,” she added.
Earlier this month, the corps announced it would again be seeking public comment on the management document for the basin, which includes Lake Lanier.
The process to update the Master Water Control Manual has been in the works for years but was thrown into limbo as the courts went back and forth on what Lake Lanier’s water could be used for.
The corps first had a scoping period in 2008 as it began the process to update the manual, which was first developed in 1958, shortly after Lake Lanier was formed.
The corps then had a second scoping period after a 2009 ruling from U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson that severely limited the use of Lanier’s water as a drinking source.
That ruling was seen as a major setback for Georgia in its fight to control the water that flows from Lake Lanier along the Alabama border and empties into the Apalachicola Bay in Florida. Then in June 2011, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled that water supply was an originally intended authorized use of Lake Lanier, reversing Magnuson’s decision.
“As a result of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruling in June 2011 and the June 2012 legal opinion of the corps’ chief counsel regarding authority to accommodate municipal and industrial water supply from the Buford Dam/Lake Lanier project, we are resuming the manual update process,” said E. Patrick Robbins, Mobile District public affairs officer.
The corps, as part of this update, will consider a broader range of water supply alternatives, including current levels of water supply withdrawals and increased withdrawals, from Lake Lanier. The corps will not hold hearings as it did in 2008.
The public can comment on the Environmental Impact Statement through Dec. 12.
Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association, said her group filed comments in November 2008.
“We are pleased to have the opportunity to provide additional comments,” she said last week.
Cloud said she believes the association will emphasize three key points:
- Progress that metro Atlanta has made in terms of conservation efforts;
- How the oyster fishing industry, while suffering in Apalachicola Bay, “is suffering from New Orleans to Cedar Key (Fla.), far beyond the scope of impact flows from Lake Lanier has on the Apalachicola Bay;”
- And another push to study increasing Lanier’s full pool to 1,073 feet above sea level from 1,071 feet.
“I would hope (the corps) will also take into account the (U.S.) Fish and Wildlife report that said management of Lake Lanier doesn’t really have a whole lot of effect on the ability of the mussel and the sturgeon to survive,” said Val Perry, executive vice president of the Lake Lanier Association.
If it did, the corps “could really look at the 5,000 cubic feet per second and really understand whether it’s necessary to be at 5,000 in a drought or not,” Perry said, referring to the minimum flow from Jim Woodruff Dam on Lake Seminole in South Georgia into the Apalachicola River.
“They seem reluctant to do that, but we certainly think they should,” he added.