A draft of the Army Corps of Engineers’ long-expected water management update governing the tri-state basin including Lake Lanier is still due out this month, with public meetings planned in October and November.
As for the meetings, Pat Robbins, spokesman for the corps’ Mobile (Ala.) District, said he doesn’t know “if locations have been locked in yet.”
Afterward, though, “public input will be analyzed,” he said, adding that the final approval and implementation of the master manual for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin are still expected in March 2017.
The current manual for the basin was completed in 1958 shortly after Lake Lanier was formed.
The revision is intended to “improve operations for authorized purposes to reflect changed conditions since the manuals were last developed,” states a corps website dedicated to the manual update.
Along with the draft, the corps plans to release a revised environmental impact statement will that describes water supply options related to Lake Lanier and Buford Dam, including withdrawals and “additional amounts that Georgia has requested from Lake Lanier and downstream at Atlanta,” states the corps.
The manual could be a dicey topic especially as Georgia, Florida and Alabama have been locked in a two-decades “water wars” over the sharing of water in the basin.
Georgia seemed to be getting an upper hand in the legal wrangling until last year when the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a lawsuit from Florida, which challenges Georgia’s “overconsumption” of water in the basin.
Florida alleges that such a trend has harmed the state economically, especially with the oyster industry in Apalachicola Bay. Georgia has denied Florida’s allegations.
“Certainly, we are interested to see proposed changes to any of the operating guidelines on the system,” said Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association.
“Specific items we are interested in include reservoir levels and any accommodations or credits for water returns, among other things.”
Cloud said, “We would like there to be some consideration or credit given for municipalities and other water consumption entities that treat wastewater and return it to the system, thereby reducing their net consumption.
“Currently allocations are based on gross consumption, not net.”
Cloud said her group also plans to keep pushing to increase Lanier’s full pool by 2 feet. The summer full pool is 1,071 feet above sea level, winter full pool 1,070 feet.
Jason Ulseth, head of the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said flow rates through the river system will be “of critical importance ... especially downstream of Buford Dam at the confluence with Peachtree Creek.”
He said that given a recent vote by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Board to remove the 750 cubic-feet-per-second minimum flow rate from Georgia’s regulations, “we hope that the corps will not be following suit in their update.
“The corps must manage the system to protect water quality and support all designated uses and provide sufficient flows at critical junctures,” Ulseth said.
Also of interest, he said, “will be how future releases from Buford Dam will be handled. Historically, the corps has conducted pulse releases from the dam (that) result in rapidly rising flows downstream, causing severe erosion of the riverbanks and safety concerns. A slower release of that volume of water over longer periods of time could help those conditions.”
Ulseth said he expects the environmental impact statement “will be a very large document that will take our team some time to get though, and we look forward to getting started.”
A private tri-state water group, Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders, which was founded in 2009, released its 130-page Sustainable Water Management Plan earlier this year. The document is a data-driven study of how Georgia, Florida and Alabama should best share water in the basin.
Officials with the group have said they hope the corps considers its plan as part of its operation of basin waters. Robbins has said the corps would expect the stakeholders to submit the plan when the corps seeks public input.
Stakeholders chairwoman Betty Webb couldn’t be reached for comment.