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Our Views: Lets make a lake
Support for proposed Glades Reservoir is strong and the need for it is clear to all
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To comment on reservoir

The public can submit comments in writing on the Glades Reservoir project before Sept. 6 to: Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Piedmont Branch, Attn: Mr. Justin Hammonds, 1590 Adamson Parkway, Suite 200 Morrow, GA, 30260-1777. Refer to the project name as Glades Reservoir, USACE Project Number 200700388.

Hall County residents got a chance to share their views on the proposed Glades Reservoir at a public comment session Thursday at the Georgia Mountains Center. Well, sort of.

As it turns out, only one person was allowed to speak before the 100 or so people at the event, attorney Tommy Craig. The session then ended, though others were allowed to have their comments recorded for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is in charge of the permitting process.

No matter. To date, no one has publicly opposed the project. It is hard to imagine why anyone would. The reservoir shapes up as a win-win. The land has been offered by the owners as part of a joint public-private venture. They will bear the cost of construction, then turn control of the reservoir over to the county at a date to be decided.

The Glades Reservoir project not only is needed now and in the future, it was needed a decade ago. The only regret is that the lake isn't already full and providing water to a thirsty county.

Time is the real challenge. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled July 17 that Georgia has three years to work out a deal to share water from the Lake Lanier-Chattahoochee River system with Alabama and Florida, pending congressional approval. After that, the corps will no longer be allowed to retain water in Lanier for Atlanta's needs beyond the legal limits. It also means releasing a certain amount of water for communities downriver in all three states to provide for their needs.

And Gainesville, though still allowed to pull water from the lake, will have to turn back the clock to mid-1970s levels and draw no more than about 8 million gallons a day instead of the 18 million we now use. If that happens, you can kiss our area's commercial and residential growth goodbye.

Gov. Sonny Perdue is pursuing both legal and negotiated solutions to the pending water crisis. He is trying to restart water talks with his fellow Republican governors in neighboring states, but so far they can't even agree on a date to meet.

That's no surprise. Both Alabama's Bob Riley and Florida's Charlie Crist know that Perdue's negotiating position is shaky so they're in no hurry to return to the table. The courts have done for them what 18 years of talks could not. And all three of them will be out of office in a couple of years — Crist is running for a U.S. Senate seat — so the odds that a deal could be hatched by three lame ducks are quite long.

If the courts and negotiations can't solve the issue, the remaining answer for Georgia's communities is clear: Develop alternate sources of water. Some already have done so, filling reservoirs to get them through drought periods like the one we experienced over the last two summers. But others have been too slow to find new sources and now are scrambling to do so. It has become clear to all that they can't count on leaders at the federal or state level to act in their best interests.

Reservoirs are not built quickly or easily. First, you need the land. Then you need to complete a lengthy and complex permitting process through both the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Environmental Protection Division to meet all impact concerns. Then there is the design, planning and construction of a dam. Then you have to fill the lake and figure out the best way to distribute the water.

Harold Reheis, a former EPD official and consultant for the Glades project, says that even in a best-case scenario it would be seven years before Hall County can use water from the Glades Reservoir. When complete, the 850-acre lake could provide up to 6.4 million gallons a day, helping replace any water lost from Magnuson's ruling.

The main obstacle remaining may be getting approval from the corps to allow the Glades water to flow into Lake Lanier, where Gainesville then could draw out the extra amount through its intake pipe. Reheis says that plan remains "the most practical, least expensive" method of withdrawing the water. The alternative would be to build a new water treatment plant and conduits to transfer the water, which would be costly and require a whole new set of hurdles to clear.

At the same time, Hall County should pursue a way to retrieve water from a third source, the Cedar Creek Reservoir in East Hall. That 143-acre lake is full but the county has not built a treatment plant or pipe system for it. When the economy bounces back, that should be a top priority. The additional 7.3 million gallons from that lake would ensure that multiple sources of water are available.

No area can continue to grow, even in a well-managed way, without steady sources of water. Metro Atlanta communities now face difficult decisions on limiting growth, which should have come years ago before the crisis reached this point.

Now Gainesville and Hall County have an opportunity to take care of their own business with the Glades Reservoir. Local government and business officials are solidly in favor of it. So are the Lake Lanier advocacy groups. Add this newspaper to the chorus in support of a badly needed water source. We urge local residents to share their views as well, whatever they may be.