Panel ‘addressing’ role of Tennessee River

Article Published in Chattanooga Times Free Press 09/16/2010

Panel ‘addressing’ role of Tennessee River

Thursday, Sept. 16, 2010

By: Andy Johns 

ROME, Ga. — Water experts predict a widening gap between the amount of water Northwest Georgians draw out of rivers and the amount of treated water they put back.

Members of the Coosa-North Georgia Water Planning Council also made it clear they still have an eye on the Tennessee River.

The group, charged with developing a regional water plan that will be rolled into the state’s first comprehensive plan, met for the seventh time Wednesday and began selecting which ideas from earlier meetings should go into the finalized plan.

One slide in a presentation of recommendations to include in the final plan said the group would “address appropriate role for interbasin transfer” including the Tennessee River.

There was no discussion on the item, and no one objected to putting it in the final plan.

“It’s always there,” David Ashburn, Walker County coordinator and vice chairman of the council, said of the river.


Forecast withdrawals and returns for 2050 (in million gallons per day)

* Chickamauga Creek

Withdraw: 18.77

Return: 3.34

* Lookout Creek:

Withdraw: 3.06

Return: 0.62

* Chattooga River:

Withdraw: 24.52

Return: 20.43

Source: Georgia Environmental Protection Division

He said the council could recommend that Georgia work out a deal to get access to the river or it could suggest some sort of reservoir on Lookout, Chickamauga or any of the creeks that empty into the Tennessee.

“The people that have these wild ideas about ‘This is mine,’ they don’t have a clue,” Ashburn said. “They just don’t realize.”

Earlier in the day, the group saw forecasts showing more and more water coming out of the streams.

“We’re taking out more than we’re returning,” said Doug Baughman, with CH2M Hill, the consulting team leading the meeting.

Public and private entities in Walker, Catoosa and part of Whitfield County are predicted to remove 18.77 million gallons per day from Chickamauga Creek, but return only 3.34 million gallons, according to forecasts from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Southern Walker County and Chattooga counties are forecast to withdraw 24.52 million gallons per day from the Chattooga River and return 20.43 million.

Dade County is expected to withdraw more than 3 million gallons per day from Lookout Creek, but return only 0.62 million gallons per day.

Based on the forecasts, Lookout Creek would fall below minimum downstream flow requirements 7 percent of the time and Chickamauga Creek would dip below the threshold 3 percent of the time. The Chattooga River would fall below the limit 9 percent of the time, based on projections.

Council members said a 100 percent return is impossible because of water consumption and the use of septic tanks, which do not return water to the service.

Dalton Utilities CEO Don Cope said the Chickamauga Creek figures look much worse than they are because wastewater from that area is pumped across the state line to the Moccasin Bend treatment plant and therefore is not included in the Georgia figures.

Since Chickamauga Creek runs into the Tennessee River it doesn’t make much of a difference to the river system if the treated water is released a few miles north of where it is withdrawn, according to Cope. It may make things more complicated for the planning group, though, he said.

“It may cause issues politically, but water is water,” Cope said.

Joe Cook, director of the Rome-based Coosa River Basin Initiative, said that, ideally, treated water should be returned as close to the withdrawal point as possible. Taking out millions of gallons of water and not returning it could hurt water quality and aquatic life in the stretch between the withdrawal spot and the main river, he said.

“Depending on what the flow is, it could have a big impact,” he said.

Cope said septic tanks are a major reason for the disparity on Lookout Creek.

The group expects to have two more meetings before recommending a plan to the statewide group and the governor.

The next meeting is planned for Nov. 17 in Blue Ridge, Ga.

Contact Andy Johns at or call 423-757-6324.

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