Dawson Forest Reservoir
Reservoir Proposal Includes Massive Interbasin Transfer Plan
Dawson Co. Commission to Hold Public Hearings on proposed Dawson Forest Reservoir Sept. 8 & 22
The Dawson County Commission will hold two public hearings on the proposed Dawson Forest Reservoir Sept. 8 & 22 at 4 p.m. at the G.L. Pete Gilleland Chambers at City Hall, 415 Hwy 53 East, Dawsonville, GA 30534. CRBI encourages its Dawson County members to attend this meeting and voice their opinions about the future of the 10,000-acre Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area.Click here to for a printable fact sheet on the Shoal Creek Reservoir.
Dawson County Reservoir Threatens Etowah RiverA proposal put forth by private developers and the Etowah Water & Sewer Authority to build a reservoir on Shoal Creek in the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area (WMA) includes plans to pipe 100 million gallons a day (MGD) from the Etowah River Basin to Metro Atlanta.
The project threatens prime habitat for federally protected fish species, endangers the water supplies of downstream communities and violates existing state law. The reservoir would cost an estimated $650 million to build.
As planned a dam would be constructed on Shoal Creek, a tributary of the Etowah within the WMA, to create a 1,200-acre pump-storage reservoir. The reservoir would hold water from Shoal Creek as well as water pumped from the mainstem of the Etowah and Amicalola rivers. Once filled, water would be withdrawn from the reservoir, treated and piped dozens of miles outside the Etowah basin to be used by homes and businesses in Metro Atlanta. There are no plans to return the water to the Etowah.
Such a plan would increase the consumptive loss of Etowah River through interbasin transfers to the Chattahoochee River Basin more than five fold. Currently, the net transfer from the Etowah/Coosa rivers to the Chattahoochee is about 15 MGD.
A review of monthly average flows on the Etowah at Shoal Creek shows that a daily withdrawal of 100 million gallons at Shoal Creek would amount to more than a fourth of the Etowah's volume even during the high flow month of March (372 MGD); during the low flow season from July through November, a 100 MGD withdrawal would remove almost 100 percent of the river's volume.
Plan Hinges on City of Atlanta Selling 10,000 Acres
The reservoir can only be built with the City of Atlanta's cooperation. The City has owned the 10,000 acre Dawson Forest tract since the early 1970s when the Airport Authority purchased the land with plans to build a second Atlanta airport.
That plan never reached fruition and for years, the City has leased the property to the state as a wildlife management area. It currently serves as a haven for hunters, anglers, horesback riders, hikers, bicyclists and paddlers.
Currently, the Mayor's office is exploring the possibilities of selling the property or entering into a water selling agreement with the Etowah Water Sewer Authority or another private developer. The City is also considering the property as the site of a second Atlanta airport to alleviate pressure on Hartsfield-Jackson Airport.
Bad Deal for City of Atlanta, Downstream Cities
This proposal is bad on numerous fronts--for both Atlanta and downstream communities.
For the City of Atlanta, selling 10,000 acres of North Georgia in the currently depressed market would mean the loss of millions of dollars. Land prices in Dawson County have fallen by 25 percent or more in the past 24 months. Furthermore, selling the Dawson Forest will not bail the City out of its financial hole. The land was purchased by the Airport Authority with federal funds. Therefore, any proceeds from the sale could only be used for airport operations.
For downstream communities like Canton, Marietta, Cartersville, Rome and neighboring Alabama, the loss of 100 million gallons per day from the Etowah is significant--more than five times what is currently lost through water transfers to Metro Atlanta.
If approved by state regulators, it is likely this reservoir would trigger new objections from Alabama in its two-decade-old water war with Georgia over the use of water in the Coosa River Basin.
In fact, Georgia law currently prohibits the kind of water transfer that is proposed through the construction of this dam and reservoir. Under the law that created the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District in 2001, it is illegal for any jurisdiction within the District to transport water from outside the District boundaries into the District. Dawson County is outside the District.
This provision was included in the state law creating the District for the very purpose of protecting downstream communities from massive water grabs such as this proposal.
Reservoir Would Kill Endangered Fish Species
A reservoir on Shoal Creek would wipe out some of the last remaining pristine habitat for the federally threatened Cherokee darter (left) and the federally endangered Etowah darter. Shoal Creek is considered Priority 1 habitat for the darters under the Etowah Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP).
As Priority 1 habitat, Shoal Creek is afforded the strongest protections under the HCP. These fish species are endemic to the Etowah River Basin and are found no where else in the world. Aside from sediment from stormwater runoff, the biggest threat to these species is reservoir construction. They cannot survive in lake habitats.
Reservoirs & Biodiversity in the Upper Coosa
In addition to the federally protected species found in Shoal Creek, the Upper Coosa is home to 28 other endemic aquatic species, many of which are federally or state protected species. Because of this high level of biodiversity, new reservoirs in the Upper Coosa could have serious impacts on many rare species.
The Nature Conservancy recently undertook a survey of all proposed reservoir sites in the Upper Coosa Basin and ranked these sites based on impacts to rare and protected species. This survey identifies critical areas where no reservoir should ever be constructed. The proposed Shoal Creek reservoir was not included in this survey because at the time it was not included in any regional water planning documents. Biologists who conducted this survey tell us that had the reservoir been on the list, it would have received a "don't build here" status because of the critical habitat that it provides for the Etowah and Cherokee darters.
Reservoirs V. Water Conservation
The proposed reservoir, with a drinking water yield of 100 MGD, would cost an estimated $600 million to build. By contrast, a slate of five water conservation measures, if implemented in the Metro Atlanta area, would create 133 MGD in water savings at a cost of just $134 million.
Water conservation should always be the first investment communities make in extending their water supplies. Water conservation measures are the quickest and most economical ways to meet growing water demands.
While reservoirs may be needed in some locations, reservoir sites should be chosen carefully with special attention given to threatened aquatic wildlife. In this case, there are more suitable locations for reservoirs that will not impact federally protected species.