Lake Allatoona may change dynamics of Georgia’s water resource debate
By David Pendered
A taste of things to come in the management of Georgia’s water resources may be evident in the federal lawsuit filed over the role of Lake Allatoona as a source of drinking water for metro Atlanta.
The lawsuit rekindles a host of issues including: Gov. Nathan Deal’s plan to build or expand water reservoirs; water conservation efforts; and the federal government’s pending Water Control Manual for the Chattahoochee River system.
In addition, the lawsuit filed Nov. 7 in U.S. District Court in Atlanta indicates a willingness by the state of Georgia and other governmental entities to litigate over the corps’ proposed operations manual for a water basin.
In this case, the subject of the lawsuit is the Water Control Manual the corps has proposed for the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin, which includes Lake Allatoona. The document is essentially a manual that regulates the operation of dams to control lake levels and river flow in the basin.
Georgia will face a similar decision about suing the corps in two to three years.
That’s the timeframe for the corps to produce an operations manual for the Appalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin. Georgia has a keen interest in how the corps allocates the basin’s water resources.
Each of the manuals will be the first update of documents created at least 50 years ago.
Since then, demand for water resources has grown significantly and the uses for water have changed. The region is no longer a collection of small cities and rural communities; the region now is home to major cities and a dwindling, and significant, rural population.
The pending lawsuit seeks to compel the corps to designate a greater proportion of water in Lake Allatoona as drinking water. Georgia entities have been requesting more water from Lake Allatoona since 1981, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit was filed the same day the corps posted its notice of a Final Environmental Impact Statement on the Federal Register. This document showed the corps had failed to act on Georgia’s requests to allocate more of Lake Allatoona’s water to serve as drinking water.
If the lawsuits hadn’t been filed, the corps expected to release is operations manual for the ACT Basin by the end of this year and implement it soon after.
The lawsuit was filed by the state of Georgia, Atlanta Regional Commission, and Cobb-Marietta Water Authority. It may be that the state filed a lawsuit separate from the ARC/Cobb-Marietta case. The lawsuit, or lawsuits, was not available late Monday on PACER, the electronic documents system that enables access to federal court records.
Until now, the water issues related to Lake Allatoona have not drawn the level of public attention as the water issues related to the Chattahoochee basin.
That’s due in part to the Chattahoochee’s role in the tri-state water war. It’s also due to the fact that a large proportion of water from the basin that includes Lake Allatoona is stored in reservoirs associated with Alabama Power, a spokesperson with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Monday.
The impact of the pending lawsuit could unfold in any number of areas including:
- Reservoirs – Deal intends to jump start development of water reservoirs with proceeds of a planned $300 million fund. The governor included $45.5 million in the state’s current budget, allocated to the Department of Community Affairs, and he formed a committee to help choose projects. The committee’s recommendations are due before year’s end.
- Conservation – The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s 2012 update of its report, “Filling the Water Gap,” shows the region could conserve at least 134 million gallons of water a day by eliminating leaks in underground water pipes, retrofitting old homes with new plumbing fixtures, and other such measures. The Georgia River Network cited the report in urging the state to shift priorities from reservoirs to conservation.
- ACF Basin operations manual – The corps is updating the manual for the Chattahoochee Basin to take into account some of the following changes that have occurred in the region, according to the project website: Changes in consumption that result from growth and development; drought contingency requirements; environmental issues related to endangered species and fish spawns; systems for data management that have been improved over time.