Thursday, May 13, 2021

Discussions Underway For Possible Transfer Of Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Water To Newton County

***Oconee County Representatives Ask For Details***

Walton County Board of Commissioners Chair David Thompson announced on Tuesday that he has been meeting with officials from Newton County about sale of water from the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir to Newton County.

Thompson said he had three meetings with Newton County officials in recent months and that state officials also had been involved.

Thompson said the state is supportive of the interbasin transfer of water from the Oconee to Ocmulgee river basins. The water could help with development of a massive research park along I-20 on the southern tip of the county, he said.

Thompson made his announcement in comments at the end of the Tuesday meeting of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board in Monroe.

Thompson is one of four Walton County representative on the seven-member Management Board, and two of Oconee County’s three representatives on the Board asked for clarification of the discussions and involvement in them in the future.

“I just feel that all of you guys need to know that these conversations are taking place,” Thompson said in explaining his announcement.

Routine Meeting

The meeting on Tuesday of the Management Board was a routine one until Thompson spoke.

Saxon (Left) And Thompson (Center)

The Board discussed its plans for construction of an intake structure on the Apalachee River at High Shoals. Project manager Jimmy Parker told the Board design work on the structure will resume in June.

Mark Saxon, Oconee County commissioner, was re-elected Board chair, and Thompson was elected as vice-chair.

Thompson serves on the Management Board ex-officio, and he joined the Board in January after his election as chair of the Walton County Board of Commissioners. Tuesday’s meeting was his first as a Management Board member.

Kevin Little, who had been vice-chair of the Management Board, stepped down as Walton County chair and from the Management Board at the end of last year.

While the chair of the Management Board runs the meetings, the session is a joint one with the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority.

The Walton County Water and Sewer Authority holds the permits for the reservoir, which is in Walton Count northeast of Social Circle.

Oconee County is responsible for 28.8 percent of the costs of the reservoir and is entitled to that same percentage of the water.

Thompson Makes Comment

Saxon turned the meeting over to Thompson after the regular business had been conducted.

Before he took office, Thompson told the Management Board, he had been contacted by the Newton County Water and Sewer Authority, “which wanted to meet with me, and feel me out on how I felt about our reservoir.”

“The item of the meeting ended up being they are very interested in purchasing raw water from Hard Labor Creek Reservoir,” he continued. “And in the process I have had since three meetings with them.

“And they are getting to the point to be able to make a proposal that I would like to bring to this Board and at least look and see what sort of revenue or what sort of route could be negotiated with them.”

“I was not trying to circumvent any Authority here,” Thompson said. “I was contacted and now it seems that the state of Georgia seems interested in this taking place also.”

Reason For Interest

Thompson said he was interested in working with Newton County for two reasons.

First, he said, Newton County currently is providing water to Walton County from its Cornish Creek Water Treatment Facility, and “We’re reaching close to maxing out Cornish Creek.”

Second, Thompson said “We are sitting here paying on a reservoir with no income coming in and if we could generate some sort of income selling raw water in the interim, being a businessman, I’m very interested in that.”

Thompson said it would be 2055 before either Oconee or Walter county, partners in the project, actually would start using water from the reservoir.

No treatment plant exists, and no distribution lines are in place.

“I would like this Board to authorize me to continue talking to them and bring something back to this Board if we get to that point,” he said.

Oconee Response

Oconee County is represented on the Management Board by Saxon, Commissioner Chuck Horton, and County Administrator Justin Kirouac.

“I don’t have any problem with an outside agency or government,” Horton said when Thompson stopped. “But I also would want to know is what that entails.”

“What do we have to do? Who’s going to pay for it? We’re talking about pumping, a lot of pumps. Whatever it takes. If you can have details,” Horton said.

“Whether it’s Newton County or whatever county it is is not the issue to me as much as it is what is it going to take to move water out of that reservoir to any location outside where it currently is,” Horton said.

“They’re engineering it as we speak,” Thompson said. “And getting preliminary prices. They have to give us some sort of idea of what they are willing to do. And what they are willing to pay.”

Impact of Withdrawal

“There is an effect to the reservoir as a whole when you start drawing water out,” Saxon said. “So we’ve got to look at that and make sure we’re aware of what’s going to happen.”

Parker said that the reservoir could handle 13 million gallons per day of withdrawal, and after that point water would have to be pumped from the Apalachee River to replenish the reservoir.

The Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir is designed as a pump-storage facility, with the Apalachee River–via the planned intake at High Shoals–providing supplemental water for the reservoir.

Citizens along the Apalachee River downstream from the planned intake have argued that the volume of flow is insufficient for that withdrawal.

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to be involved in these meetings,” Saxon told Thompson. “Just let me know, I’ll be glad to be there anytime.”

“I’d be glad to include you in the next time,” Thompson said. He also invited Project Manager Parker to join.

Stanton Springs

Thompson made fleeting reference in his comments to Stanton Springs, a research park for high-tech and bio-science industries created by a Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton, and Walton counties and located on I-20 where the four counties come together.

Takeda Pharmaceutical, Facebook, and Georgia's BioScience Training Center currently are located in the park.

“Basically Walton and Newton are evaluating options to provide additional water supply to the four-county industrial park,” Parker told me in an email on Wednesday.

“A large industry locating there would either require Newton County expand their Cornish Creek Water Treatment Facility, or Walton to move forward with development of the Hard Labor Creek Treatment Facility, which is much close to the site.

“What Chairman Thompson mentioned yesterday was related to preliminary discussions between himself and Newton County Chairman Marcello Banes, regarding water supply options for the Four County Park,” Parker said.

Parker said “the discussions have been between those two directly.”


The video below is of the May 11 meeting of the Management Board, held at the Walton County Historic Courthouse in Monroe.

Scott Wallace of the Greater Apalachee River Community attended the meeting and recorded it for me.

Thompson began his comments on his meetings with Newton County officials at 32:08 in the video.

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