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Lake group looks to state for water quality input
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Forsyth County News

BUFORD — Area government and utility leaders appeared to be leaning Wednesday toward state environmental officials taking the lead in developing a water quality plan for Lake Lanier.

However, without taking any formal votes, members of Lake Lanier Stakeholders also voiced support for continuing to give input to the Environmental Protection Division in efforts to establish a “total maximum daily load,” or maximum amount of pollutants water can receive and meet quality standards.

“We can perhaps, proactively, work on things that lend themselves to what that implementation plan will be,” said Adam Hazell, planning director for the Gainesville-based Georgia Mountains Regional Commission.

“But we can begin as early as right away following through on incremental measures that get to the education and best management practices that we can start promoting.”

The GMRC and Atlanta Regional Commission are leading the stakeholders group in talks with the EPD and governments and utilities.

The big concern in TMDL is phosphorus, which, if it enters the lake in excessive amounts, can cause algae growth and lead to environmental problems such as fish kills, lowered water clarity and the potential for toxic algae blooms, the EPD has stated.

In addition to looming permit restrictions, governments surrounding the lake that depend on the reservoir as a drinking water source also face the Army Corps of Engineers’ first update in some 50 years of a water control manual — another reason behind the stakeholders’ creation.

The stakeholders group started meeting last year to work with the state on the TMDL.

Wednesday’s meeting at the Gwinnett Environmental and Heritage Center was a pivotal moment, as GMRC and ARC officials pressed the group members as to whether they wanted the state to forge ahead on the TMDL or preferred to develop a “watershed plan,” or “water restoration” efforts outside the TMDL.

Elizabeth Booth, manager of EPD’s Watershed Planning and Monitoring Program, pointed out that if the “restoration plan doesn’t work, you’ve got to write a TMDL.”

Duncan Hughes, headwaters outreach coordinator for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, recommended letting the state lead the effort.

“Rather than spend years potentially writing a [watershed] plan, why not let the TMDL process play out and use this group as a forum to actually implement things that increase stream buffers ... voluntary compliance and enforcement of existing law?” he said.

“I think the nonpoint source problem is real simple — it’s control erosion and stream buffers.”

Lanier — and other large water bodies — get their pollution from “point,” or more readily identifiable, sources, such as sewer treatment plants, and “nonpoint” sources such as stormwater or agricultural runoff.

Kelly Randall, Gainesville’s public utilities director, agreed with Hughes.

“There’s a lot that can be done if we go ahead and enforce what we’re doing,” he said.

The stakeholders group has been meeting every two to three months at various spots in the region.

At the next meeting, set for Sept. 24 at Unicoi State Park in Helen, the group plans to consider information it believes might be vital for the state in drawing up the TMDL.

Officials “have developed a snazzy tool that we can bring up on a [computer] screen, play with some different scenarios and type in different [load] reductions, look at different discharge reductions at plants, and see how things work,” said Danny Johnson, the ARC’s senior principal planner.