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Metro Atlanta and Georgia should explore developing ‘good reservoirs’ first

Second in a two-part series. Last week: Despite drawbacks, top Georgia leaders pushing idea of new metro reservoirs.

As metro Atlanta and Georgia jointly try to steer their way through our water woes, let’s keep one thing in mind. There are good reservoirs and there are bad reservoirs.

Increasingly, reservoirs are being viewed as a centerpiece of Georgia’s long-term water solution. Long-term because developing major new regional reservoirs is a 10-year to 15-year endeavor. That means there’s no way they could help us meet the impending July, 2012 deadline looming over our region.

So what are potential solutions?

First of all, the best reservoirs are existing reservoirs. Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona have to be the focus of our state leaders’ attention in seeking a solution.

Easier said than done.

But our region’s near-term future depends on getting Georgia and Alabama initially to reach some sort of truce that will allow the region to continue using those two reservoirs for metro Atlanta’s drinking water.

When Lake Lanier was developed, its primary purpose was to generate hydropower. Providing water to help the Atlanta region grow was a side benefit. The City of Atlanta was not a financial investor in Lake Lanier’s Buford Dam, the reason given by the judge as to why the Atlanta region does not have a right to use the reservoir as a water resource.

If Alabama and Georgia can’t find a middle ground, one idea would be to explore the possibility to work out an agreement with the entities that do have a right to Lake Lanier — the power companies.

Could metro Atlanta and Georgia work on a public-private solution to sublease some of the rights to Lake Lanier? Could the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which oversees Lake Lanier, help the region work on a creative solution?

After all, nobody really expects that the federal government will turn off metro Atlanta’s water spicket and leave the nation’s ninth largest urban area high and dry.

In short, every avenue to use our existing reservoirs needs to be explored and pursued by the powers that be.

But there also is another solution.

All over our region and our state there are humongous holes in the grounds.

These holes are quarries that have been dug out, and many of these quarries are sitting there quietly empty after having been stripped of their natural resources.

A case in point is the Bellwood Quarry. Thanks to the development of the Atlanta BeltLine, thousands of people have been able to tour the urban redevelopment project and see the magnitude of the Bellwood Quarry in our midst.

It doesn’t take much to imagine that quarry filled with water — becoming another water reservoir for our city. The Bellwood Quarry is only a mile or so away from the Atlanta Water Works, so it would not be out of the question for the quarry to be able to “capture” rainwater and then have that water piped to our existing water reservoir.

Also, engineers could determine if there was the ability to plug into some nearby water source to help fill the Bellwood Quarry. It has been estimated that the Bellwood Quarry could hold enough water to take care of Atlanta’s water needs for 50 days.

Although the Bellwood Quarry would only hold about a fraction of the water that a new regional water reservoir could hold (such as the one being proposed at Dawson Forest), it could be one more weapon in our region’s arsenal to meet its water needs.

Sandy Tucker of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Georgia said it has not “had any ‘official’ proposals to use old quarries as a substitute for a new reservoir, but the idea has some merit.”

For a quarry to have a sustainable water supply — more than capturing rainwater and storm-water, a groundwater connection would need to located or water would need to be pumped from somewhere else.

“Not having to build a dam would certainly be quicker, cheaper and could be less damaging to local waterways,” Tucker said.

Will Wingate, vice president of advocacy and land conservation for the Georgia Conservancy, has been quick to point out several of the detrimental environmental and development issues involved in building major new regional water reservoirs.

But he also knows that Georgia will need to build some reservoirs as part of its long-term water strategy.

“if quarries are not being used, it’s the least environmentally-damaging option out there,” Wingate said.

Also, because the crater of a quarry already exists, it would be much faster and cheaper to actually develop such a water reservoir.

So as we move forward on this march towards more reservoirs, let’s be savvy and explore all the solutions in our midst.

Maria Saporta

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.



  1. Dam Man January 29, 2011 10:39 am

    Good article, but reservoirs are not 10-15 year projects but can be built in four years if the projects are given the political support that is necessary to remove obsticals. The Dawson Forest reservoir is not going to happen becasue the site is not suitable. It is only mentined becasue it is the largest single tract in within 80 miles of Atlanta. There is currently a perfectly workable reservoir planned in Hall County that has already submitted its permit application. There is also another viable reservoir – in the Etowah basin – that will become public in the next month. The Gov has voiced support for regional reservoirs and with him providing the political support, that second reservoir will have a permit submitted within the next 60 days and both reservoirs will be operational in five years. Keep watching, things are going to start snowballing very soon.Report


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