A federal judge’s ruling limiting Gainesville’s access to Lake Lanier’s water also could affect two of its most faithful customers, southerly neighbors Oakwood and, to a lesser degree, Flowery Branch.
“We’re definitely going to be (affected) by any restrictions to water withdrawals,” Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown said last week, several days after the ruling that has sent shockwaves through North Georgia.
“We would support Gainesville, Hall County and ... all the municipalities and governments in the basin to make sure we protect our right to withdraw water,” he said. “It’s critical to ... how we can grow responsibly and in a quality way.”
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson of Minnesota ruled July 17 that Lake Lanier, as a project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was never intended as storage for drinking water.
Magnuson’s ruling means Gainesville would have to return to its original withdrawal permit of 8 million gallons per day. By contrast, Gainesville’s 46,648 water customers used an average of 18.48 million gallons per day last month, records show.
Flowery Branch gets some water from Gainesville, “but in terms of our water system, we use wells exclusively,” City Manager Bill Andrew said.
The city has three wells with tank storage of 960,000 gallons, with its newest well on Roberts Drive featuring 750,000 gallons.
In case of emergency, the city has a line that ties into the Gainesville water system, Andrew has said.
“In terms of the water going back into Lake Lanier, I would imagine (the well system) might actually be a positive,” he said. “Most of the water we put back into (the lake) comes from the aquifer. So, in a sense, we’re a net gain.”
Oakwood doesn’t operate a water or sewer plant of its own, relying on other municipalities to serve its customers.
“We feel like, with all the efforts being done with sewer, that we’re trying to return flows back to the lake,” Brown said.
Among its efforts, Oakwood is involved in trying to bring 2.5 million gallons in sewer capacity from Braselton, which is in the Oconee watershed.
Brown also said he believes that as a region, “we’re being very water-wise.”
“We are very conscious of how we conserve water and make the most of it,” he said, adding that he believes “at some point, there needs to be recognition of the fact that every drop of water that ends up in Lake Lanier originates in the state of Georgia.”
“If you’re looking at (the issue) from a water rights standpoint ... I’m hard-pressed to understand why we can’t utilize the water that falls within our state boundaries,” Brown said.
In his ruling, Magnuson gave Georgia, Florida and Alabama three years to broker a deal over Lanier’s water. The three states have squabbled over water rights for nearly 20 years.
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue has said he will “fight to the death” to preserve Georgia’s water rights, but he also has suggested that the solution lies with Congress, saying federal water rights are a national issue.