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Letter: County's Reservoir Plans Don't Hold Water

Joe Cook, executive director & riverkeeper for the Coosa River Basin Initiative, contends that Paulding's plans for the Richland Creek Reservoir may create a "dam to nowhere."

Dear Editor,

Paulding County’s Richland Creek Reservoir has been a decade in the making, and based on the opposition generated from the county’s most recent iteration of its coveted water supply project, the county should do some soul-searching as to its most sustainable water supply options before it builds a new dam.

In December and January, the County’s reservoir plan was poked, prodded and picked apart by federal agencies, neighboring governments and a host of conservation organizations during a mandatory public comment period.

Those groups delivered page upon page of largely negative comments opposing the project to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps). The city of Rome requested that the Corps hold a public hearing and demanded environmental studies. The city of Cartersville said the project would have a “severe adverse effect,” and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service recommended denial of the permit until completion of a study to determine the cumulative impacts of the multiple water supply reservoirs planned in the Etowah River Basin.

Now, the Corps must sift through this information and determine whether Paulding’s plans pass the muster. If they do, Paulding will receive its long-sought-after permit that will allow the $75 million, 305-acre project along the Paulding-Bartow county line to move forward.

Logic leads one to conclude that the permit will be denied; the application is full of holes. In it, Paulding’s leaders contend this project is urgent. By 2035, they claim rapid population growth will demand 47 million gallons per day (MGD), and they claim that uncertainty over future withdrawals from Lake Allatoona—the county’s current water source—demand the new reservoir.

The reality is Paulding’s growth has slowed dramatically. Housing starts dropped to 132 in 2011, compared with 3,070 in 2005. From 2000-2010, some 5,482 residents moved to the county each year, yet projections used to justify this project predict growth of more than 14,000 residents per year for the next decade—absurd figures given current conditions. The county’s 2035 population projections of 445,000 are therefore likely bloated by some 130,000; a miscalculation that inflates water demand by 30 percent.

Furthermore, the county’s plan to use the water it currently has more efficiently is poorly developed and highly suspect. County water use figures show that indoor household water use averages 66 gallons per day per resident, but a water-efficient household uses only 45 gallons per resident per day. If the county achieved this level of efficiency, it could realize indoor water savings of 32 percent and reduce county-wide water use by as much as 20 percent. This would significantly reduce the need for the proposed reservoir and its related expense.

With the more realistic population projections and more efficient water use, Paulding County’s real 2035 water demand could be as little as 24 MGD—not the 47 MGD predicted.

Finally, Paulding’s contention that Lake Allatoona is an unreliable source due to ongoing litigation between Georgia and Alabama makes the case to delay action on this project—not blindly press forward.

In its application, the county contends that the amount of water available from Lake Allatoona cannot be determined. Based on this uncertainty, the county assumes that no additional water withdrawals will be available—a false assumption, if there ever was one.

The outcome of the litigation may well result in increased water withdrawals from Lake Allatoona. If that’s the case, Paulding’s taxpayers could be on the hook for a $75 million project that would go down in history as a “dam to nowhere.”

Logic and fiscal prudence would lead most observers to step away from this plan and pursue more cost-effective water efficiency options, but alas, those admirable qualities have been lacking in Georgia’s water planning as of late.

Joe Cook

Executive Director & Riverkeeper

Coosa River Basin Initiative

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