Water for Atlanta
A four-person delegation from Oconee and Walton counties met in Atlanta on Aug. 10 with a representative of the governor’s office to discuss the possibility of obtaining state and federal funds for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir in light of the federal court ruling against Atlanta’s future use of water from Lake Lanier.
Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, who with Hank Huckaby represented Oconee County at the meeting, called the discussions "exploratory."
Davis said the goal was to see if excess water capacity of the reservoir could be diverted to Atlanta to address the pending water crisis in exchange for federal and state funds for the reservoir.
Davis stressed that any deal that would be made could "not jeopardize" the long-term needs of Oconee and Walton counties for the water from the reservoir.
U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled on July 17 that metropolitan Atlanta has been taking water illegally from Lake Lanier, which, according to the judge, the federal government built for hydroelectric power generation and other uses, but not for drinking water.
The judge said the region will have to return to the levels of water withdrawal from the lake of the mid-1970s in three years, unless Georgia works out some solution with Alabama and Florida over the disputed water from the Chattahoochee River.
Davis was joined by Walton County BOC Chairman Kevin Little and Jimmy Parker from Precision Planning Inc. at the statehouse meeting. Gov. Sonny Purdue was represented by Ed Holcombe, his chief of staff.
Huckaby, a retired administrator from the University of Georgia, organized the meeting, according to Davis.
Huckaby is one of three Oconee County representatives on the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board. Little is one of the four Walton County representatives. Parker’s PPI is project manager for the reservoir.
Davis said the meeting was called in the hopes that state will help pay for some of the $350 million reservoir project in Walton County as a way of addressing the acute needs of Atlanta for water.
In a 3-2 vote in March of 2007, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners voted to join with Walton County in construction of the reservoir on Hard Labor Creek.
Chairman Davis joined with Commissioners Jim Luke and Don Norris in voting to join the project, and Commissioners Margaret Hale and Chuck Horton voted against joining.
Luke is chairman of the reservoir management board but did not attend the meeting on Aug. 10, according to Davis.
On April 7, Oconee County Utility Department Director Chris Thomas told the Board of Commissioners that the county was slowing its involvement in Hard Labor Creek because of lack of Utility Department funds resulting from the drought and from the housing market collapse.
Only two weeks later, on April 21, Parker, vice president of Precision Planning Inc., appeared before the Oconee BOC to give a presentation to reassure it and to say that the project was "on schedule and under budget."
The project is to be built in two phases, with the first scheduled to come online in 2014. Cost for that first phase will be $170 million, with $36 million for land acquisition, $34 million for reservoir design and construction, and $73 million for the treatment plant and transmission system.
The first phase will yield 41.4 million gallons per day of water, 71 percent of which will go to Walton County and 29 percent of which will go to Oconee County. Cost of the project are shared based on these percentages. That phase is scheduled for completion in 2014.
In the first phase, water impounded would come from Hard Labor Creek itself. In the second phase, water would be pumped from the Apalachee River south of where Walton, Morgan and Oconee counties intersect and stored in the reservoir.
When the second stage is completed, the water treatment plant would be able to produce 62 million gallons per day of water. The reservoir would be upstream from the Hard Labor Creek State Park, which is in Morgan County.
The second stage is not scheduled to be completed until 2050, but, with state and federal funding, it could be built more quickly, and the excess water could be diverted to Atlanta.
Hard Labor Creek ultimately flows to the Apalachee. Water from the reservoir pumped to Oconee County would stay in the Oconee River basin, since both of the Oconee sewage treatment plans flow to the Oconee.
Water pumped from the reservoir to the western part of Walton county and to Atlanta could be lost to the Oconee River Basin unless efforts are made to send treated water back to the Oconee River basin.
Walton county straddles the Ocmulgee and the Oconee River basins. Originally, Walton was a member of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District for metro Atlanta, but it switched to the Upper Oconee Regional Water Planning Council after 10 new councils were created with passage of the Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Plan by the General Assembly in 2008.
In the autumn of 2007, I tried to get the Oconee County Board of Commissioners to pass a resolution drafted by the Georgia Water Coalition opposing interbasin transfer of waters. The board refused.
I took the resolution to the board in my capacity as president of Friends of Barber Creek.
Prior to the drought, Walton County was purchasing 14 million gallons of water per month from Oconee County. Those sales stopped in September of 2007.
Walton is now purchasing about this same amount of water–a half a million gallons per day–from Oconee County and from the Upper Oconee Water Authority. The water authority operates Bear Creek Reservoir in Jackson County in a partnership made up of Barrow, Clarke, Jackson and Oconee counties. Oconee gets most of its water from that reservoir.
A story about the meeting in Atlanta appeared in today’s edition of The Walton Tribune, though the paper did not identify the time or place of the meeting and mistakenly said it involved the reservoir management board. Davis is not a member of that board.
I learned of the meeting on Saturday when Topix.com found the story on the Internet. The software behind Topix.com, a news aggregator, scans the Internet for stories involving Oconee County. Though the story did not appear on the Tribune web site until today, Topix.com somehow found it on the web a day earlier.
I posted the story to the Oconee County page of Topix.com, which I edit, on Saturday, but I did not write about it here until I was able to confirm the story.
Chairman Davis was kind enough to respond to an email message I sent him late this morning. He called me this evening to confirm the meeting and provide details about those who attended.