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Jul. 22, 2019
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WCM to sate metro Atlanta’s thirst

By Jane Harrison
 
More water from Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River will green lawns, flush toilets, and process goods in metro Atlanta under a new water management plan announced by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last month.
 
Atlanta area officials reacted gleefully upon release of the water control manual that grants Georgia nearly all the water it requested through 2050 while forecasting negligible impacts to Lake Lanier and the northern section of the river below Buford Dam. However, it predicts potentially adverse changes in water quality for the river south of Atlanta and a range of outcomes in water levels for the string of reservoirs between Atlanta and Florida. Additionally, the plan predicts no changes in flow into Florida on the Apalachicola River.
 
Lanier watchdogs, environmentalists looking downstream and Florida officials expressed concern the plan could bring more days of red shoreline to the lake, decrease water quality on the Chattahoochee and devastate Florida’s oyster industry. The manual, updated for the first time since 1989 and subject to a review period ending Jan. 14, details Corps’ proposed operation of five dams on the Chattahoochee River en route to the Apalachicola River in Florida. Lake Lanier, the northernmost reservoir, is the largest on the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee Flint river system that includes the free flowing Flint River that merges with the Chattahoochee near the state line.
 
The Corps evaluated about a dozen water management and supply storage scenarios to formulate the Proposed Action Alternative to cover a myriad of water issues, including supply, drought operations, flood control, power generation, recreation, economic and ecological concerns. “Under the PAA, (the Corps) would continue to operate the ACF as a system in a balanced manner to achieve all the authorized project purposes,” said E. Patrick Robbins, Corps spokesman.
 
Special master asks for explanations
As of mid-December, it was clear the WCM was on the mind of the special master who had just wrapped up a Florida-Georgia showdown in a Maine courtroom where states’ attorneys argued about balance on the river system. Special Master Ralph Lancaster’s recommendations to the Supreme Court are expected to strongly influence Court decisions about how to divvy the water between the two states. Florida filed suit in Oct. 2013 accusing the Peach State of hoarding water on the ACF and causing economic and ecological harm to Apalachicola Bay.
 
A week after the hearing ended, the Corps sent Lancaster the newly released WCM. The Supreme Court appointee then ordered the U.S. Justice Department to explain if and how the 1,000-plus page manual materially changes Corps operations “as presented by the parties” at trial. Lancaster was expected to offer his recommendations to the Court by the end of December. It is unclear how the special master’s ruling or potential future federal lawsuits would effect WCM implementation. Past lawsuits have impeded completion of a WCM for decades.
 
The WCM: Predicted effects and concerns

Water Supply: The manual allows gross withdrawals of 242 million gallons per day from Lake Lanier for Hall, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties and releases from Buford Dam of 379 mgd for the city of Atlanta plus Dekalb, Fulton, and Cobb counties. The amounts, authorized through 2050, supply all Georgia asked for in its 2015 request which reflected an actual decrease from its 2013 appeal for 279 mgd from Lanier and 408 mgd from the river through 2040. Hall, Forsyth and Gwinnett currently can take about 210 mgd on a monthly average from Lake Lanier. Atlanta and metro counties get up to 360 mgd from the Chattahoochee below the dam.
 
Increased water supply is expected to fuel continued economic and residential growth in the metro region, where members of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District praised the plan. “We’re pretty positive about it. One, that it’s finally done, and two that it allocated Georgia what we’d like,” said Kit Dunlap, President of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and governing board member of the water planning district.
 
Lake Lanier watchdog Wilton Rooks said the plan “is very good for the metro Atlanta district in a sense that all the water Atlanta feels like it’s going to need for long term economic growth has been accommodated.” He added it appears the Corps’ “guidelines were fairly clear: to do only as much as necessary to satisfy Atlanta water withdrawal requirements.” The Lake Lanier Association official expressed concerns about the potential effects of withdrawing more water, as did officials from Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.
 
“I think … the key question the Corps had in mind is how to meet Georgia’s water supply requests, said Chris Manganiello, CRK water policy director. “At the end of the day, we’ll be looking at less water in the Chattahoochee River” below Atlanta, he said. Rooks responded similarly: “The more water you take out, the less water there is stored, which has the effect of reducing lake levels.”
 
Glades Reservoir out: The proposed Hall County reservoir that found favor with the Corps in the 2015 WCM draft did not make the final cut, the Corps said, due to “public comments and new information.” Citing updated population projections lower than the county forecasted, the state declined to get behind the project and Hall County withdrew its permit application pending completion of the WCM. The county spent about $16 million in acquisition and consultant fees for the proposed Glades Reservoir in North Hall. “Because Hall County has withdrawn their … permit application, Glades Reservoir is no longer reasonably foreseeable and, therefore, was not considered in the final EIS as a potential measure for satisfying a portion of Georgia’s 2015 water supply request,” the WCM states.
 
Water Level: Compared to current Corps operations, water releases under the new plan would cause “slightly adverse to adverse effects” on Lanier, resulting in a small decline in recreation income (.15 percent) but a “negligible effect on scenic areas and viewsheds.” The Corps defines a slightly adverse effect as measurable and perceptible, but without an appreciable effect.
 
“Slightly adverse is in the eye of the beholder,” said Rooks, who observed the plan projects a 4 percent increase in the number of days Lanier drops below 1066 feet above sea level from its full pool levels of 1070 feet in winter, 1071 in summer. It’s a significant increase that’s “somewhat concerning” when translated into days of low level on Lanier, he added.
 
CRK environmentalists also expressed concern about lower flow on the Chattahoochee River below Peachtree Creek. “There will be less water for dilution” of pollutants, therefore reducing water quality as the river flows south from Atlanta.
 
Water quality: Lanier would sustain slightly adverse water quality effects, including increased nitrogen and phosphorous levels, plus reduced dissolved oxygen levels. Water quality would depreciate south of Buford Dam, where the manual projected “adverse to substantially adverse” changes as the river travels south. The manual indicated Georgia’s return of more treated wastewater to the lake and river would increase phosphorus and nitrogen loads. “I don’t think water quality is an issue,” Rooks said. “The wastewater treatment plants do a fantastic job in Gwinnett, Gainesville and Forsyth. I don’t think (the WCM) will have a significant impact on water quality” on Lanier.
 
CRK officials take a darker view on the river. “We’ve seen the state not require the highest level of technology” to treat wastewater, said Riverkeeper Jason Ulseth. Decreased flow and increased pollutants from treated wastewater could push sections of the river “close to violating water quality standards” during drought, he said. Decreased oxygen in the river reduces its capacity to dissolve pollutants, he said. “These are what we consider pretty significant impacts,” Ulseth said. He added the environmental organization that advocates for a cleaner river has major concerns about the manual that reflects the Corps own identification of potential deteriorated water quality downstream of Buford Dam.
 
Drought operations: The manual takes a “more proactive approach” to conserving water on the reservoirs. Under the revised plan, the Corps would begin drought operations at an earlier stage after reservoirs begin to sink and continue conservation measures longer. Drought operations would be triggered when ACF composite storage on reservoirs enters Zone 3, rather than Zone 4, as in the current plan. Rooks believes earlier reaction to droughts would have a positive effect on the lake. Manganiello said the drought plan “would have affect of retaining additional water in Lake Lanier and other water reservoirs, as well.”


 Florida officials, Apalachicola Riverkeeper React
  • Dan Tonsmiere, Apalachicola Riverkeeper: “I have never opposed the Corps giving more water to Georgia, if it truly had little impact to Apalachicola floodplain and bay. Certainly if Georgia returned most of the water it takes from the rivers at the right place and in a timely manner, those impacts could be minimal. But the Corps has used a flawed baseline … which ignores +50 years of increasing water use without recognizing the significant changes downstream that have occurred since the ACF project began. I had hoped for better and spent much time and effort to work with them. They do great harm to their credibility with such short sighted and incomplete work.” (In an email to Lakeside News)
  •  Spokesman for Fla. Senator Bill Nelson: The senator “opposes any plan that allows Georgia to keep even more freshwater from flowing into Florida.” Georgia’s storage and consumption of water has a “devastating impact on the oyster industry” in Apalachicola Bay. (Bruce Ritchie report in POLITICO  Florida)
  • U.S. Representative Gwen Graham: The WCM “flies in the face of reality. The Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to ignore the needs of Apalachicola’s environment and economy.” (Bruce Ritchie report in POLITICO Florida)
 

Posted Online 12/28/16
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