Atlanta’s water needs cited in plan to pump water from aquifers into Flint River during times of drought

By David Pendered

Georgia’s efforts to quench metro Atlanta’s thirst include a $1 billion proposal to pump water from one aquifer to another and then release it into the Flint River in times of drought.

This stretch of the Chickasawhatchee Creek winds through the Elmodel Wildlife Management Area. Previously, the creek passed through Georgia’s second-largest wetland, Chickasawhatchee Swamp. Credit: Wayne Schaffner/Flickr.com

An experimental well may be drilled in the Elmodel Wildlife Management Area, through which this stretch of the Chickasawhatchee Creek passes. Previously, the creek passed through Georgia’s second-largest wetland, Chickasawhatchee Swamp. Credit: Wayne Schaffner/Flickr.com

On Tuesday, the board of Department of Natural Resources is to consider a request for permission to drill an experimental well near Albany to see if the plan is feasible. A committee of the board approved the proposal Monday.

Advocates contend the practice would preserve the amount of water retained in Lake Lanier, while increasing the flow in the Flint River and the river it helps form – the Apalachicola River. Critics disagree, including the Flint Riverkeeper and Georgia Rivers.

The Southwest Georgia Regional Commission has asked the state for an easement to drill a well on state-owned land, the Elmodel Wildlife Management Area. The wildlife area is in Baker County, between Albany and Bainbridge.

The purpose of the experiment is to determine if a water management system called Aquifer Storage Recovery could help the region secure its water supply, according to the application the regional commission filed in April 2012 with the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, a funding arm of the state.

The idea is to pump water from Floridan aquifer to the deeper sand aquifer, at times of plentiful water. Georgia is in such a condition now, as the persistent drought conditions have ended, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

The Elmodel Wildlife Management Area is located between Albany and Bainbridge. Credit: http://www.georgiawildlife.com/maps/hunting/region5

The Elmodel Wildlife Management Area is located between Albany and Bainbridge. Credit: http://www.georgiawildlife.com/maps/hunting/region5

During dry times in the future, water from the deeper aquifer would be pumped into the Flint River to increase its flow. The measure for an acceptable flow would be taken a gauge near the start of the Apalachicola River.

The application cites a number of reasons the commission thinks the proposal supports Gov. Nathan Deal’s water policy. The governor has called for a series of measures, mainly the construction of reservoirs, that aim to provide an adequate supply of water for human use at reasonable prices.

Gordon Rogers, executive director of the Flint Riverkeeper, contends the Aquifer Storage Recovery plan is everything but a reasonable approach to water management. In an email, Rogers outlined some reasons he opposes the proposal:

  • “This administration is particularly adept at proposing ‘solutions’ for the Flint that would cost citizens what seems to be about a $1 billion ante. First it was reservoir(s) in the upper Flint, something the governor proposed when he was still in the U.S. Congress. Now it’s a boondoggle of an ASR project in southwest Georgia. The other common features of these ‘solutions’ is that, uniformly, they take Georgians’ private property, and/or their property rights, while making a handful of insiders quite wealthy.
  • “It seems to me that a conservative administration could come up with something a little less dependent upon government spending and waste.”

For its part, the regional commission says it is motivated to protect an agriculture-based economy that generates $2 billion a year at the “farm gate,” plus its multiplier effect, according to the application. The farm industry is reliant on irrigation and water supply is not reliable, the application states.

The ASR plan was devised with help from companies with political and economic influence.

The Flint River would receive water pumped from aquifers under a proposal by the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission. File/Credit: sherpaguides.com

The Flint River would receive water pumped from aquifers under a proposal by the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission. File/Credit: sherpaguides.com

The team includes Joe Tanner, former Georgia DNR commissioner; Harold Reheis, former director of the DNR’s environmental protection division; Allen Barnes, former EPD director and chief of staff in the Atlanta office of EPA; Brasfield & Gorrie, LLC, a privately held U.S. company in the construction industry; Etowah Water Bank LLC, and Merchant Capital Investments, Inc.

The regional commission also realizes its political position in the effort to address the state’s fragile water system. Over the next few years, water management plans are expected to be crafted for north Georgia and also the entire length of the Chattachoochee River.

To that end, the commission’s application is laced with references to the tri-state water war and the water supply concerns of its upstream neighbors – Columbus and metro Atlanta. Sometimes the reference is none too subtle:

  • “Our innovative project, probably more than any other water supply project in Georgia, will have positive impacts on the water problems of our region and when scaled up (based on the information to be developed from this demonstration project) will significantly assist in meeting the water needs and objectives of three water planning districts: Metropolitan North Georgia, Middle Chatthoochee, and Lower Flint/Ochlockonee.
  • “In short, this project can result in ‘moving the needle’ on water problems in the ACF basin (Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint) from metro Atlanta to Lake Seminole.”

Meanwhile, the ink is still drying on a report last week from scientists in Florida that linked the low flow in the Apalachicola River to the great decline in the oyster population in Apalachicola Bay starting in 2012 and continuing today. The BP oil spill was not a factor in the decline, according to the study by the University of Florida Oyster Recovery Team.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

3 replies
  1. Gary Kelley says:

    I attended the DNR board meeting today and there was an extended discussion of the ASR project in Baker County. David, if you would like to reach me my email is    Gary KelleyReport

    Reply
  2. Jonathan Smith says:

    Great observation by you David, but there is the need of our flint river to. The mission of the Flint River keeper (FRk) is to restore and preserve the habitat, water quality, and flow of the Flint River for the benefit of current and future generations and dependent wildlife. FRk is a full-licensed member of the Water keeper Alliance and participates in the Georgia Water Coalition.<a href=”http://www.pjdore.com/services/water-pumps”>Affordable Water Pumps Limerick</a>.Report

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