S. Fulton reservoir proposal trashed
Both upstream and downstream unhappy. Atlanta's resistance may be enough in itself to keep plan from fruition.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
April 28, 2009

Stacy Shelton

A proposed drinking water reservoir in south Fulton County is in the crossfire of criticism from upstream and downstream neighbors.

And for now, it's not even legal.

Unless the city of Atlanta releases Fairburn and Union City from its water service area, the state will not permit the Bear Creek reservoir. That's unlikely, since Atlanta has invested millions in pipes and pumps to serve south Fulton and is counting on revenues from those communities to help pay for its $4 billion water and sewer overhaul.

Florida doesn't like it either, because the 440-acre reservoir would stick another straw in the Chattahoochee River. In a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would have to OK the project, Florida raised concerns about the biological and economic impact of reduced water flows into the Apalachicola River and Bay.

In the meantime, the South Fulton Municipal Regional Water & Sewer Authority, which includes the city of Palmetto, hopes to get a needed permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The public comment period ends May 18.

Harold Reheis, former director of the state Environmental Protection Division and now a lobbyist and consultant who is representing the authority, said because of droughts and the uncertainly of the tristate water war over the Chattahoochee, the metro region needs more water supplies like the one proposed. The estimated cost to construct this one, not including land acquisition, is $8.5 million.

"I think it's a good thing to hedge the bet and say well, what if we don't get all the water that's assumed in the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District plan? A judge in the federal court system may not give us all that water even if it's there," Reheis said.

The proposed pump-storage reservoir would dam Bear Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee, and flood 301/2 acres of wetlands. According to the application, water withdrawn from the Chattahoochee would be pumped into the creek just below the dam to maintain a steady flow in the creek for water quality purposes until 2050.

By 2050, when the reservoir is expected to yield 16.4 million gallons of water a day, the authority wants to be able to pump up to 6.4 million gallons a day from the Chattahoochee into the reservoir during droughts. That's for a population expected to top 130,000 in a high-growth scenario.

The authority calculated the reservoir would reduce the amount of water in the Chattahoochee by less than 1 percent on an average annual basis. That number could be much higher during severe droughts, when the river is carrying far less water.

Rob Hunter, commissioner of Atlanta's Department of Watershed Management, says the reservoir isn't needed. Atlanta, which provides water for 1.2 million people, withdraws about 100 million gallons a day from the Chattahoochee during peak months.

Hunter said the city has a master plan for providing Atlanta, south Fulton and Sandy Springs with water through 2060. The plan includes converting an old quarry into a reservoir.

How you can be heard

• To view the public notice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Georgia, go to https://sasweb.sas.usace.army.mil/jpn/Attachments/200900225.pdf.

• Written comments can be submitted to the Savannah District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Piedmont Branch, Attention: Gary Craig, 1590 Adamson Parkway, Suite 200, Morrow, Ga. 30260-1777. Refer to the South Fulton Municipal Regional Water & Sewer Authority, and application number 200900225.

• For information, contact Craig at 678-422-2728.

Copyright 2009 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution