Sunday, December 31, 2023

Environmental Impact Hearing On Water Treatment Plant For Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Generates Little Citizen Response

***Project Manager Provides Historical Overview***

Only three people stepped forward last month when the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority invited residents of Oconee and Walton counties to offer comments on an Environmental Information Document prepared for the planned water treatment plant on the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.

Oconee County is partner with Walton County on the reservoir and the planned treatment plant, which, at some point in the future, is expected to be expanded to treat water pumped from the Apalachee River.

That likelihood in the past had led residents, particularly in Oconee County, to attend meetings and voice their concern about the potential impact of the withdrawal on water flow in the river.

At the meeting on Dec. 7 at the historical Walton County Courthouse in Monroe, no one from Oconee County spoke, and the three women who did talk voiced concerns about the impact of the future Rivian plant in the south of Walton County on their wells.

Walton and Oconee counties have been awarded $42 million in federal funds allocated to the state of Georgia as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to assist with the costs of construction of the water treatment plant.

As part of the federal funding, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) mandated an environment review, production of the Environmental Information Document, and a meeting to seek public comment.

The Environmental Information Document concluded that “With proper design and appropriate care in constructing the facilities, the project was deemed to have no significant adverse effects on the environment, the area’s historical and cultural resources, and on the sociological conditions of the community.”

At the Dec. 7 meeting, Project Manager Jimmy Parker offered a summary of the project for the small audience of seven people, going back nearly 20 years, when Walton County sought out Oconee County as a partner in the reservoir project. 

Parker’s Presentation

Parker, who also is Senior Vice President with Precision Planning Inc. in Monroe, said the “inception” of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir “began way back in 1992.”

Sunta (Left) And Parker 12/7/2023

“The Walton County Board of Commissioners at that time did not have a water supply source,” he said.

The Walter County water system was purchasing water from the city of Monroe, he said, and now purchases water from the Newton County Water Authority.

In 1995, the Commissioners did a study of potential reservoir sites in Walton County and came up with several options, Parker said.

The Georgia EPD requested that Walton County look at some regional alternatives, according to Parker, “and Walton County originally had Gwinnett in this project as a partner, the city of Winder, and finally it ended up Oconee County did join in.”

Both Gwinnett and Winder later “opted out,” according to Parker.

Walton County owns 71.2 percent of the project, and Oconee County owns 28.8 percent.

Water Treatment Facility

The $42 million in federal funding will go toward a 12 million gallon per day water treatment facility, Parker continued.

“The frame or the skeleton will be a 16 million gallons per day plant,” he said. “It will only be retrofitted or equipped for 12 million gallons initially.”

Walton and Oconee counties cut back on the plans for the plant because of costs. 

The project also will include transmission lines to carry the water to the Walton County water system “and the Oconee County water system in the future,” Parker said.

Oconee County does not need the water from the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir, and, in fact, is joining with Barrow and Jackson counties in expansion of the water treatment plant at the Bear Creek Reservoir in Jackson County to meet future needs. 

Bear Creek currently provides all the water the county uses, except during summer months, when the reservoir output is supplemented by water from wells in the county, and transmission lines from the Bear Creek treatment plans already are in place.

The projected cost of the new plant at the Hard Labor Creek reservoir is $155.8 million. Oconee County has committed to spending $20.8 million of that cost

Apalachee River

“The Apalachee River raw water pump station is also being built,” Parker said. “That should go to bid in the next three to four months.”

That will be a “shell structure” on the Walton County side of the river opposite North High Shoals, Parker said, but ultimately the station will pump water from the Apalachee River to the reservoir to expand the reservoir’s output capacity.

According to the Environmental Information Document, the expectation is that, assuming a start up of 2026 for the operation of the water treatment plant, it will take another 15 or 20 years before the plant will need to be expanded beyond the 12 million gallons per day.

The reservoir, with the water from the Apalachee River, will have a maximum output of 62.1 million gallons per day.

In 2018, citizens downstream from that intake facility organized as the Greater Apalachee River Community and voiced opposition to the future transfer of water from the Apalachee River to the reservoir. 

Jim Sunta, Senior Process Engineer with Precision Planning, followed Parker at the Dec. 7 meeting and said “the driving force for the Environmental Information Document is the EPD requirement for the ARPA funding.”

Sunta said he was the primary author of the Document, and “a lot of the environmental work was already done as part of the original 404 permit,” which is the federal permit for withdraw of the water from Hard Labor Creek and from the Apalachee River.

Citizen Comments

No one from the Apalachee River Community attended the Dec. 7 meeting, and I was the only person from Oconee County who was present.

Audience For Meeting 12/7/2023

None of Oconee County’s three or Walton County’s four members of the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board was at the meeting. Parker and Sunta represented the Board as well as the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority.

The Walton County Water and Sewer Authority actually holds the withdrawal permits, owns the reservoir, and will build the treatment plant.

Oconee County is responsible for 28.8 percent of the costs and will be entitled to withdraw that same percentage of the treated water.

The reservoir, completed in 2015, is in the southeastern part of Walton County, northeast of Social Circle.

“How is the water removed from this going to affect our area,” one of the citizens present asked, “the area that the water is in right now.”

“The reservoir was built to retain amounts of water as it rains,” Parker said, “instead of releasing all of that water. You have to release downstream the same amount of water that existed prior to building the reservoir,” he added.

“What we’re looking for is the aquifer being breached with the Rivian project,” one of those present said. “We’re concerned with anything to do with the water from here to Rivian.”

“Presently there is no connection from this plant to Rivian,” Parker said.

The Rivian electronic vehicle plant is to be built with massive state subsidies in the southern tip of Walton County and Morgan County.


I was one of the seven people who attended the meeting, and I recorded the video below. (One of those in attendance was a representative of Walton County.)

Parker began his presentation at the very start of the video.


Jim Gaither said...

Thanks for the post, Lee, and have a happy new year.

Linda said...

Thank you for covering this story, for all your in-depth reporting, for all you do for Oconee County and the surrounding area.
Linda Exum

Linda said...

Thank you for covering this story, for all your in depth reporting, for all you do for Oconee County and the surrounding area.
Linda Exum