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County reviews water options
Future without lake possible
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Forsyth County News


In the next 50 years, Forsyth County’s water needs are expected to multiply by as much as five times, according to a recent study.

The county’s current use averages about 12 million gallons of water per day, with a maximum day of 22 million gallons.

The county’s average daily use in 50 years could be 60 million gallons, based on projections from the Metropolitan North Georgia District 2009 Water Plan.

“Water supply is on everybody’s mind. There’s water uncertainties,” said Tim Perkins, the county’s director of water and sewer.

Forsyth County gets most of its water from the city of Cumming, which has a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for withdrawals from Lake Lanier. The county does not.

A federal judge’s decision on the use of Lanier, however, has clouded the outlook.

In July 2009, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that water supply was an illegal use of the lake.

The ruling gave Georgia three years to come up with a water-sharing plan with Alabama and Florida, stop using Lanier for water consumption or have Congress reauthorize the lake’s use.

“There’s nothing that we could do within the time frame of the Magnuson ruling to replace water supply,” Perkins said. “But nobody believes that there’s a danger of having a valve shut off in 2012, though something may happen after that. We’re going to have water to drink. Nobody’s worried about that.

“At the same time, we need to be planning for possible scenarios and looking at our options.”

The effects of the possible outcome on water supply were broken down into three scenarios as commissioners reviewed possibilities for the county’s future water supply during a meeting Tuesday.

Lanier and Chattahoochee River withdrawls could either increase to what was originally planned, stay the same or be prohibited.

Regardless, Forsyth would still need to find more water to meet the 50-year demands, expected to be an extra 17.5 million, 44 million or 60 million gallons per day in ranging from the best to worst case, presenter Eric Nease said.

The estimated costs of preparing infrastructure for those options ranged from $200 million to $410 million, according to Nease, a water resources practice leader from the firm Jordan, Jones & Goulding.

In all scenarios, a variety of sources were recommended from which to potentially draw water.

For the time being, Nease recommended the county continue to develop groundwater sources, work toward developing at least two reservoirs and acquire quarries as they become available.

He identified and ranked 10 possible water sources.

Groundwater came in as the best option behind Lanier and the Chattahoochee since it’s the most cost effective, though the source would likely yield only an estimated 2 million to 4 million gallons per day.

Potential future reservoirs were also identified in descending order: Glades, Etowah and Bannister, Brewton, Settingdown and Shoal creeks.

A transfer from the Tennessee River basin was listed last, due to the complicated and expensive procedure necessary to get the water here, Nease said.

Forsyth County has announced an interest in the proposed Glades reservoir, a project in Hall County.

The Bannister and Brewton creek reservoirs, though lower in water yield, would be in Forsyth, which Nease said could make the projects best for immediate needs.

He said the county could also store additional water in two local quarries or one in Cherokee County, a “stone’s throw away” from the county’s northwestern end.

Quarries do not have a lifetime of use, however, and the two sites in the county are estimated at 20 years.

Though Lanier remains the best option, Nease said the corps could also change its pricing for withdrawls.

“That could rival the cost of building your own reservoir,” he said.

Perkins added that the corps has informally announced its intent to change the pricing structure in the future.

With water demand rapidly reaching supply, Nease said Forsyth County must make strides toward some new sources.

“Y’all are almost the litmus test in north Georgia,” Nease said. Y’all are the ones closest to the limit.”