Reservoirs eyed for water relief

Reservoirs eyed for water relief

August 19th, 2009 by Andy Johns in Georgia

A state senator from North Georgia says the state needs a "MacArthur plan" for water, and he suggested new reservoirs, underground aquifers and desalination of ocean water without ever mentioning a pipeline into the Tennessee River.

"Every corner of the state is a potential place for water storage," wrote Sen. Chip Pearson, R-Dawsonville, in an opinion piece released Monday.

In the piece, the senator urges Gov. Sonny Perdue and other state leaders to expand current reservoirs and get started on new ones immediately. He also asks for Congress to waive some permit requirements.

"Out of the three states embroiled in this issue, ours has the most to lose," he wrote, referring to Georgia, Alabama and Florida. "The time for action is now."

In a phone interview, Sen. Pearson said a federal judge's July ruling that Atlanta must find water alternatives to Lake Lanier within three years is comparable to the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. The state now needs a water plan as strong and swift as Gen. George MacArthur's plan to rebuild Japan after the war, he said.

"We've had a bomb dropped on us, and we've got to go rebuild infrastructure," he said.

He said he didn't mention the Tennessee River in his plan because legal battles between Georgia and its northern neighbor would take valuable time and energy that should be used elsewhere.

"I don't know, at this point, if we have the time for that," he said.

He suggested increasing the size of several small flood-control lakes across the state and petitioning Congress for water rights to Lake Lanier and the ability to raise the lake level two feet. He also suggested building new reservoirs on public and private property, as well as in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

The Georgia Inventory and Survey of Feasible Sites for Water Supply reservoirs, released in 2008, identifies 34 feasible sites for reservoirs in Northwest Georgia, including spots in Catoosa, Walker, Murray and Gordon counties.

Dr. Jerry Jennings, who is chairman of the Northwest Georgia Regional Water Resources Partnership's executive committee, said good sites obviously must have a river or creek but also should have land features that provide a bowllike area to fill and have proper geology below to hold the water. The bowls need to contain hundreds of acres and, ideally, have only a few landowners to deal with.

Identifying the best spots, buying the land and acquiring permits can mean layers of red tape, according to Dr. Becky Champion, assistant branch chief for watershed protection with Georgia's Environmental Division.

"It's almost like peeling an onion," she said.

John Bennett, chairman of the Coosa-North Georgia Regional Water Planning Council, said reservoirs are a likely option for the water plan, but his group has not discussed specifics.

"I think we are probably a year or two away from being ready to recommend that," he said.

That's time the state doesn't have according to Sen. Pearson.

"The time for talk and study is over," he wrote.