Where Atlanta's thirst may clash with endangered fish

Artcle Published in Atlanta Journal Constitution 11/27/10

Where Atlanta's thirst may clash with endangered fish

By Jeffry Scott 

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

DAWSONVILLE -- On a recent chilly Saturday morning a group of people hiked about a mile and a half down a rugged trail to see where two forces of nature -- Atlanta’s mighty thirst for water and two endangered fish species -- seem about to collide.

The fish, the amber and Etowah darters, small enough to fit in the palm of a man’s hand, inhabit Shoal Creek and the Etowah River. Those rivers flow through the 10,000-acre tract of Dawson Forest, owned by the city of Atlanta, which is considering bids to build a 2,000-acre reservoir on the property.

The reservoir would cost an estimated $650 million and take years to build. It would supply as much as 100 million gallons of fresh drinking water per day to Atlanta and other metro cities.

But would damming Shoal Creek to build the reservoir eradicate two species of fish a good many people have never heard of?

“If there were no stressors on these fish, they would be fine,” said Eric Prowell, a hydrologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and one of the experts  on the tour arranged by environmental activists.  “But we’ve got the pressure from the growth of Atlanta, the need for water and development, and these are stressors on the species.”

It will take a study by the wildlife service to predict the impact on the endangered fish if the reservoir is built, Prowell said, not to mention a bevy of other regulatory, political and legal clearances required to take the project from proposal to reality.

Filling the reservoir will require that water also be drawn from the Etowah River and watershed, said Joe Cook, another one of the guides and an activist with the Coosa River Basin Initiative. That means the reservoir likely will face legal opposition from Alabama because the state draws water downstream of the Etowah.

“What you’re going to end up with is a battle of chambers of commerces and municipalities” over the water rights downstream of the proposed reservoir, said Cook, who waded into the stream with Prowell and other wildlife service officials, catching darters to show the curious trekkers before releasing them back into the fast-flowing current of the creek.

“This is the male,” Prowell said, showing off one of the Etowah darters. “They get more colored up than the female.”

On the hike down to Shoal Creek the group passed a handful of tiny streams whose existence will be altered or eradicated by the project. “They’ll also  get gobbled up by the reservoir,” Prowell said.

Theresa Hartz, who lives in nearby Big Canoe, said she’s worried building the reservoir will spoil birdwatching in Dawson Forest. Despite what the reservoir proposals say, she thinks there will be residential development in the now largely unspoiled tract.

“Let’s face it, any kind of waterfront property is much more valuable and too tempting to resist,” she said.

Hartz would rather keep the forest, about 60 miles north of downtown Atlanta, the way it is -- a great place to take a brisk hike and watch “breeding warblers” and, in the winter, red-breasted nuthatches.

Full Article: http://www.ajc.com/news/where-atlantas-thirst-may-755629.html


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