Atlanta Business Chronicle: Reservoir plans get boost in North Georgia

The article by Atlanta Business Chronicle staff writer, Dave Williams, is reprinted here because many of you request info on what’s happening with the reservoirs.  It may be years before a new reservoir is created, but it is important to keep up with the various moves and the players.  Emily

RESERVOIR PLANS GET BOOST IN NORTH GEORGIA:  A new state law has reinvigorated plans for a new reservoir on a North Georgia site owned by the city of Atlanta.  Two competitors presented plans recently to the Dawson County Commission for a reservoir on up to 2,200 acres of the 10,130-acre Dawson Forest property the city bought in the early 1970s as a potential site for a second airport.

The project would yield up to 100 million gallons of water per day, enough to serve the rapidly growing Atlanta region either as a major complement or alternative to Lake Lanier, depending on the outcome of the long-running legal tug-of-war over water allocation between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

“We’re going to have to impound water in North Georgia, not only to supply Atlanta but to supply ourselves,” said Gary Pichon, a Dawson County commissioner and reservoir supporter. “If Atlanta doesn’t have adequate water supply in the future, Georgia starts to look a lot like Mississippi.”

But to become reality, the Dawson Forest Reservoir still must await a final result in the tri-state water war.

Absent a settlement of that dispute, Gov. Nathan Deal and legislative leaders are hesitant to create additional water supplies in a river basin that Georgia shares with either of the other two states. The Dawson Forest Reservoir would be formed by damming a tributary of the Etowah River, which flows from Georgia into Alabama.

The proposed reservoir also must surmount opposition from environmental advocates worried about the effects of piping huge quantities of water out of the Etowah basin and from local residents against flooding the pristine property.

Atlanta industrial developer Jerry Daws, president of Republic Resources Inc., first proposed the reservoir more than two years ago.

At the time, he was working in partnership with the Dawsonville, Ga.-based Etowah Water & Sewer Authority. But since then, the two have parted ways and become competitors.

The General Assembly passed legislation this year allowing municipal water systems to form public-private partnerships to finance and build water improvements. In the spirit of that measure, publicly owned Etowah is now partnering with New Jersey-based American Water Co. on plans for a $650 million reservoir covering 1,200 acres.

“We sought additional resources because this project is too big for us,” Jim King, Etowah’s board chairman, told Dawson County commissioners Sept. 22 during a public hearing at Dawsonville City Hall. “American Water is the largest private provider of water in the United States. They have the resources, the expertise and the funding to do this project without one red cent coming from Dawson County or the state.”

Etowah General Manager Brooke Anderson emphasized the water authority’s local connections in his pitch to the county commission.

“We are part of this community,” he said.

But Daws argued that his Atlanta-based company is the only competitor offering to make Dawson County a “true partner” in the project.

Under Republic Resources’ proposal to invest $800 million in a 2,200-acre reservoir, the county would receive a one-time $7 million “advisory fee” for its assistance with the project and estimated annual payments of $8.3 million to $10.2 million upon full operation of the reservoir.

“They’re the local guys,” Daws said of Etowah. “But they’re not giving [the county] anything. … All the money is going to New Jersey.”

The city of Atlanta, which also would partner with Republic Resources, would get $10 million in advisory fees.

One aspect of the plan the competitors share is that both are offering to preserve 8,000 acres at the Dawson Forest site as perpetual green space in exchange for the land they need for the reservoir.

Neither Dawson County nor the cash-strapped state government has the financial wherewithal to acquire and save Dawson Forest, Anderson said.

“There is no money to allow the state to develop this park in a meaningful way,” he said.

But Will Wingate, vice president of advocacy and land conservation for the Georgia Conservancy, said there’s an alternative to seeking local or state funds to preserve the property or cutting a deal with one of the reservoir developers.

He offered to work with Dawson County to raise the money needed to preserve the property through a SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) referendum.

He pointed to recent SPLOSTs for open space preservation in Paulding and Decatur counties that passed despite the current anti-tax climate.

“If the public knows there’s a specific piece of property that’s critical to a community, they’re willing to pay for it,” he said.

Besides the potential to lose increasingly rare forestland, Wingate and other environmentalists are concerned about the potential effects of withdrawing up to 100 million gallons a day from the Etowah River on downstream communities.

“This would be the single-largest interbasin transfer in the state,” said Joe Cook, executive director of the Rome, Ga.-based Coosa River Basin Initiative.

Cook also pointed to a legal obstacle to the Dawson Forest Reservoir. When the General Assembly created the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District a decade ago, lawmakers prohibited piping water from outside of the district to customers inside its boundaries.

Dawson County is outside of the metro water district.
The project’s supporters say all of the legal and environmental issues surrounding the project must be fully vetted before the reservoir could win approval.
Since Atlanta owns the property, the city will have a great deal of say in whether the reservoir ever gets built and, if so, who builds and operates it.
Pichon said that, for now, he would be satisfied if the Dawson County Commission passes a resolution he plans to introduce supporting the project.
“I’m just trying to tee this up,” he said. “It would give [Atlanta] and the water companies interested in doing this some notice as to where we are.”
New reservoir
Two proposals are competing to build a reservoir in Dawson County on 10,130 acres owned by the city of Atlanta.
Republic Resources Inc.
Size of reservoir: 2,200 acres
Expected yield: 100 million gallons per day
Cost: $800 million
Etowah Water & Sewer Authority
Size of reservoir: 1,200 acres
Expected yield: 90 million gallons per day
Cost: $650 million
Sources: Republic Resources Inc., Etowah Water & Sewer Authority

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