Sunday, January 14, 2007

Written on 1/14/2007

Important to Attend Two Upcoming Meetings

Two important meetings are taking place this week and next, both on Wednesday evenings.

At 7 p.m. on January 17, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners (BOC) will hold a hearing on plans for a water reservoir at the courthouse in Watkinsville.

From 5:30 to 8 p.m. on January 24, The Georgia Water Council will discuss statewide water management in Masters Hall at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education, 1197 S. Lumpkin St., on the UGA campus.

Stories about the January 17 meetings have appeared in all three papers. All indicate the County is seeking citizen input on two reservoir options. The County could go forward with its previously announced plans to build a reservoir on Barnett Shoals road, or it could join Walton County in construction of a reservoir on Hard Labor Creek. The County pulled out of the Walton County project last year in favor of the Barnett Shoals project.

Likely County Already Decided

The stories have said this is an opportunity for citizens to express their views of the options, but it seems clear the County has already made its choice. The January 11 edition of the Oconee Enterprise contains a legal notice of the hearing, which would not be required if this were merely a discussion of options.

The story in the January 11 issue of The Oconee Leader, which quotes BOC Chairman Melvin Davis extensively, suggests this is a public hearing on the County’s decision to rejoin Walton County.

Both options involve more than $100 million in County expenditures. Apparently not up for discussion is not going forward with either of these projects.

According to the story in the Leader, the County used 2.6 million gallons per day of water in 2005. At one place in the article, Chairman Davis is quoted as saying the County might need 12 million gallons per day in 2050. He also is quoted as saying the County "probably will need more water in 2013 or 2014" than it can get from the Bear Creek reservoir in Jackson County.

The Bear Creek reservoir first started supplying water in 2002 to Barrow, Clarke, Jackson and Oconee counties. According to the web site of the engineering company Golder, which provided construction monitoring for the reservoir, the 505-acre reservoir and treatment plant have a capacity of 45 million gallons of water per day.

Water "Needed" to Encourage Growth

Chairman Davis said the County "needs" more water for growth. That, of course, is what the decision on January 17 will focus on: how to develop a water source to encourage more growth in the County.

More water coming into the County means more water flowing to its two sewage treatment plants, including the plant on Rocky Branch road. The County is seeking a permit at present to discharge 1 million gallons per day of water from that plant into Barber Creek. The County is considering expanding that plant to 4 million gallons per day of discharge in the future.

To build the Barnett Shoals reservoir, the County would need a permit to draw water out of the Oconee River. The Hard Labor Creek reservoir would draw water from the Apalachee River. The Bear Creek Reservoir currently takes its water from the Middle Oconee.

The Georgia Water Council meeting on January 24 at the Georgia Center is part of an effort to create a statewide Water Management Plan. The Water Council is a coordinating committee created by the Georgia 2004 Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Planning Act, which mandates the development of a statewide plan.

EPD Has Four Objectives

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), with the oversight of the Water Council, has developed four major water management objectives: (1) Minimize withdrawals of water by increasing conservation, reuse, and efficiency, (2) Maximize the return of water to river basins, (3) meeting water demands through efficient surface water storage and aquifer management, and (4) protecting water quality by reducing discharges of pollutants to streams and runoff from land.

At the meeting, the Water Council will present draft policy recommendations on water quality and take comments on policy options to be addressed by the Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Plan.

The first half hour of the meeting will give participants an opportunity to view displays and materials related to the water planning process.

Some of the Water Council objectives seem at odds with those of Oconee County.

Oconee County is trying to develop a demand for treated water from its Rocky Branch sewage plant for use in lawn irrigation. When there is no demand because of heavy rains, the treated sewage water will go into Barber Creek, where it ultimately will flow to the Middle Oconee and Oconee. When these streams might benefit from increased volume, in other words, they will not get it.

Integration of Water and Sewage Treatment

An option the County has not discussed is integrating its sewage treatment and water treatment facilities to make maximum use of the limited water resource.

That would require the County to treat its sewage water to drinking level quality. It can be done, but it will not be done if the County is allowed to discharge lesser quality water into Barber Creek and allowed to encourage, rather than discourage, the use of water for lawn irrigation.

Please try to attend both of these meetings and to raise questions at both about how we can use and protect all our streams, not just Barber Creek.

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