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Guest Column

Georgians should not waste money on new water reservoirs

By Guest Columnist APRIL INGLE, executive director of the Georgia River Network

Our state’s leadership shouldn’t prioritize building new reservoirs as its first solution to our water supply needs when other alternatives are faster, cheaper, and will provide more water.

We have existing water supply reservoirs sitting full today that no one is tapping for water supply, like Hall County’s Cedar Creek Reservoir. We have 20 existing flood control lakes that are sitting full today and were identified by the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission as good sources of water supply for metro Atlanta. We have reservoirs that have been permitted but haven’t been built because there aren’t enough customers to pay for them, like Walton and Oconee Counties’ Hard Labor Creek Reservoir.

We can also gain nearly 200 million gallons of water per day if we were to aggressively pursue the four top water conservation and efficiency strategies: fixing water line leaks, pricing water to encourage efficient use, retrofitting existing buildings, and landscaping to minimize waste.

Additionally, we could raise the full-pool level of Lake Lanier by two feet, at relatively moderate cost, and gain upwards of 26 billion gallons of additional water in storage with every gallon available to meet the needs of downstream communities, lake users, and water supply.

The full pool level at Lake Lanier now stands at 1,071 feet above sea level. A two-foot change would raise the full pool to 1,073 feet, but the Army Corps of Engineers owns land up to 1,085 ft. above sea level. A study, estimated to cost $2 million, is needed to identify the impacts of raising the pool level. Impacts are estimated to be minimal and would probably include making retrofits to shoreline erosion structures and marinas, as well as raising one bridge.

Click on link at the end of this column to look at a comparison between new reservoirs and the alternatives.

Not only are existing reservoirs, conservation and efficiency faster and cheaper, they are “shovel-ready” so they can immediately create construction jobs.

Other metro areas in the country have faced the same water supply issues that we now face in Metro Atlanta and have chosen the faster, cheaper, shovel-ready route.

New York City completed the world’s largest toilet replacement program from 1994‐1997, resulting in a savings of 70‐90 million gallons of water per day through the replacement of 1.3 million toilets. The program saved the city over $200 million by deferring expansion of water supply and wastewater systems. From a water use peak in 1988 New York’s per capita water use declined 34 percent by 2003.

Boston made a commitment to water efficiency, and it uses less water today than it did in 1911. Boston reduced its total water demand by 125 million gallons per day. The city avoided $500 million in costs by investing $40 million to reduce its demand for water.

Seattle’s water conservation efforts have resulted in the city using less water now than it did in 1950. Seattle reduced its total water demand by 40 million gallons per day. The city avoided $100 million in costs by investing $30 million in water efficiency.

It’s clear that spending large sums of public money on new reservoirs should be the option of last resort when it comes to securing future water supply for Georgians.

In this economy, it is surprising that new reservoirs are even part of the conversation, especially when the proposed funding ($300 million over four years, $46 million this year) probably won’t go far enough to get new water supply from even one new reservoir, but would go a long way with other strategies. The people of Georgia want our leaders to pursue the most cost-effective, commonsense options that are readily available.

So why would our state’s leadership prioritize building new reservoirs as their top solution to our water supply needs? As is often the case when our government makes illogical choices, the answer can probably be found in learning who stands to profit.

The decisions before us now should not be based on who will profit from building the reservoirs or from selling water and lakeside property in the future – they should be based on good public policy that helps all Georgians prosper now.

Comparison of reservoirs and alternatives


  1. Emily Thomas February 14, 2011 11:24 am

    This article demonstrates that conservation and water efficiency measures should be the first and primary source of water management in Georgia. These common-sense solutions are cheaper and much faster to implement than massively expensive new reservoir projects. We have just a year and a half left on the time-line set out by Judge Magnuson’s ruling on water sharing. There is no way we can build any reservoir in that amount of time. What better way to show good will towards our downstream neighbors and start enacting policies that would help alleviate our water concerns right now than to put Governor Deal’s proposed bond package towards water conservation.Report

  2. Ms. April Ingle makes some very, very, very good points concerning making wise use of existing water resources through extensive water conservation measures. Even after the last drought, which was in and of itself nearly catastrophic in its scope, CONSERVATION still seems to be a dirty word here in Georgia, but the fact of the matter is that very large population centers, no matter what climate they’re located in from desert to plains to forest and especially coastal face issues with water supply and availability. Atlanta is relatively new to the game of being a large population center and facing the issues that more established large US cities like NY, LA, Chicago, etc have faced for years (issues like water availability, inadequate transportation infrastructure, illegal immigration, etc). If the State of Georgia and the Atlanta Region don’t face up to the fact that water conservation isn’t just a passing fad to be practiced to help get through times of exceptional drought, but a way of life for urban areas with very large and dense populations, then they’re gonna find out for sure first hand come July 2012 just how critical everyday water conservation is when the taps from Lake Lanier run completely dry, though it should be noted that Gwinnett County practices princing water use to encourage water conservation.

    “The decisions before us now should not be based on who will profit from building the reservoirs or from selling water and lakeside property in the future – they should be based on good public policy that helps all Georgians prosper now.”
    Our state government can’t help making decisions based on which one of their campaign contributors and crony buddies is gonna get even richer from the legislation they push, it’s basically the only way they know how to make public policy decisions. But there’s nothing like seeing those taps run dry to bring things into focus….Report

  3. Jim Dean February 15, 2011 9:00 am

    Shouldn’t there be a muti-stage plan with short term quick wins/shovel ready projects and a long term strategy aka more reservoirs? The best plan is a combination of both we need to look into the future and see where we are going it doesn’t help to put projects on the shelf because there doesn’t seem to be a need now or it isn’t the best need now. True leadership should present a plan: Conservation short term —-> more infrastructure long term. I don’t see that I see bits and pieces of information here and there. Good article more people should read it and get involved. I would also like to see a plan for pulling excessive rain/snow water during times of floods/higher than normal capacity to some reservoir this water is wasted by sending it down stream, what about the downstream cities shouldn’t they build some infrastructure instead of just letting the water flow by or into the the rivers and out to the ocean, instead of relying on the water to come from Atlanta? Florida, Georgia, and Alabama need to have a cohesive plan.Report

  4. Steve Fitzpatrick February 17, 2011 12:13 pm

    There isn’t much in the way of regional aquifer development here in North Georgia. This is due to the underlying lithology of the area. Nevertheless there is plenty of groundwater under our feet. Modeling and developing small well-fields is not an outrageous idea and would provide plenty of water for quite a few communities. Along with conservation measures this could help solve many of our water problems.Report

  5. lynnbo February 21, 2011 7:26 pm

    80 million for another damn/ resvervoir to be spent in Hall County. More debt on the taxpayers and all the key political office holders are pushing it hard. Who will make the money off the Hall County #2 Reservoir? The fix is in on this one.Report

  6. SpaceyG on Twitter February 22, 2011 8:31 am

    While all seem to be pursuing different paths/agendas/political games on dredging of Savannah harboyr/SHEP, it’s good to see unity and consistency of message from Georgia’s environmental/water orgs on reservoir issues.Report

  7. DrinkMoreWater March 8, 2011 8:51 pm

    The story found is rather misleading when it says “Boston made a commitment to water efficiency, and it uses less water today than it did in 1911”
    I’m not sure how this can be said. Boston has less population now than in 1910 and yet still uses more water than then. Plus large reservoirs were built to help meet demand.

    Here are the facts:
    The population of Boston in 1910 was 670,585. In 2009 the population is an estimated 645,169.

    Boston built a large number of reservoirs beginning with a pivotal 1895 study, as found here:
    In 1910 the water use was 116 mgd according to the above referenced report.

    In 2009 the water usage was 194.3 mgd as found here:
    Note that the webpage says this:
    “MWRA’s source reservoirs, the Quabbin and Wachusett, can be counted on to safely provide about 300 million gallons per day of water. This amount is called the “safe yield.” “Report

  8. April Ingle May 5, 2011 11:13 am

    The service area of the utility that serves Boston (the MWRA) is larger than the city of Boston itself – and that the growth in water customers has come as the MWRA has expanded its service area.

    The MWRA’s own web page on “safe yield” goes on to say that the system was “routinely” withdrawing an amount greater than the safe yield back in the 1970s and ‘80s. But: “To address this problem, MWRA launched an aggressive water conservation program in 1986. By 1989, withdrawals had been brought below the safe yield, where they have remained ever since.”

    There’s a bulleted list there of the various water efficiency strategies on that page too. (www.mwra.state.ma.us/04water/html/wsupdate.htm.) The chart (www.mwra.state.ma.us/monthly/wsupdat/demand-1985-2010-640.jpg) is fascinating too.

    So yes, there are large reservoirs that help meet demand in the Boston area, but the story here is that the community literally negated the need for a $500 million additional reservoir by investing $40 million in a vigorous efficiency program.Report


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