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Plan for new reservoir pitched
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Forsyth County News

Other action

Also Tuesday, the Forsyth County commission:

• Voted 3-2 to make all county park properties smoke and tobacco free, with the exception of parking lots. Commissioners Pete Amos and Todd Levent were opposed. Amos considered the measure too restrictive and Levent deemed it not strict enough. The policy, which the parks board has recommended, will not be official until after a public hearing.

• Released about $322,000 in 1-cent sales tax funding for the renovation of the future Sexton Hall Enrichment Center, planned as a senior center at the current Lakeland Southern Baptist Church. The center is expected to open in September, with the total project expected to cost about $2 million.

• Approved a citizen participation plan for the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development Section 108 loan program, for which a presentation and public hearing will be held April 21. The proposal was described as a senior, focus living facility for low- and middle-income wage earners. The vote was 3-2, with Commissioners Jim Boff and Levent opposed.

• Agreed to move forward with the county comprehensive plan update, already in progress, instead of taking a state deferral option. The deadline remains 2012, which the optional delay would have pushed to 2017.

Note: All votes were 5-0 unless otherwise noted.

-- Alyssa LaRenzie

The Georgia Reservoir Company thinks it has an answer to Forsyth County's water woes.

The group pitched its idea for a Calhoun Creek reservoir to commissioners during a work session Tuesday.

Calhoun Creek, which flows near the Dawson-Lumpkin county line, could be home to a reservoir drawing water from the Etowah and Chattahoochee basins and serving Forsyth County.

As proposed, the pumped storage reservoir would cover 590 acres and hold about 10.6 billion gallons of water, said Scott Cole, the group's attorney.

"It's essentially a really big hole in the ground that would store a lot of water for when it's needed," said Cole, who specializes in reservoir permitting.

The basic premise behind a reservoir, he explained, is that on peak months when customers consume water above what the usual intake allows, a stored source of water is available to supplement those needs.

Given the uncertain water future of Forsyth County and its expected population growth, Cole said, the Calhoun Creek reservoir could fill the projected needs.

The company drew up the Calhoun Creek reservoir with Forsyth County in mind, hoping to capitalize on those needs through a public/private partnership.

The project could take about eight to 10 years to complete. Georgia Reservoir is working with Freese and Nichols, a firm which has designed more than 150 reservoirs.

Commissioners listened to the presentation and asked several questions, but did not reveal their opinions during the work session.

"It's a big decision. It's a big project," said Chairman Brian Tam, thanking the men for bringing it forward. "I'm sure the board would like to think this over."

Cole examined several alternatives for water sources during the presentation, something necessary to the reservoir permitting process.

He made it clear, however, that the county will have a big need for more water in the future.

In 2060, he said, the county is expected to consume an average of 90 million gallons a day, or mgd, with a high-end usage of 108 mgd, according to the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.

Numbers from the Georgia Office of Planning & Budget set those predictions higher, at an average of 97 mgd and a peak of 116 mgd.

According to Cole's presentation, if all local requested expansions and withdrawls from the county's main water source, Lake Lanier, are approved, the county would still have an unmet demand of 30 mgd in 2060.

If none were approved, that unmet demand would be 67 mgd, he said.

The proposed Calhoun Creek reservoir could provide up to 47.5 mgd with potential for expansion, Cole said.

The county currently uses an average of 12 mgd, with a maximum day of 22 million gallons.

It currently 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.

Due to future uncertainty, Forsyth County has explored several options for alternative water sources.

Most recently, the county contributed $10,000 to the Lake Lanier Association for its efforts to raise the lake's full pool level by 2 feet, to 1,073 feet above sea level, providing thousands more gallons of water.

The county has also expressed interest in the Hall County Glades reservoir project and discussed other reservoirs.

All alternatives must be explored to receive a permit from the corps of engineers, the state Environmental Protection Division, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

"Before they make a decision on it, it's fully documented that you need this project and this is the place that it ought to be," Cole said.

In addition to the Calhoun Creek project, the group's short list of the county's possibilities included the Glades reservoir, raising the level of Lanier, building multiple reservoirs or filling quarries.

Cole said if the county moves forward with Calhoun Creek, it would also have to withdraw its stakeholder status in Glades with the state to apply for a permit.

The permit process would likely take about three years and cost about $4 million.

Environmental mitigation costs could range from $13 million to $117 million. Land costs were estimated at $21 million, and construction would cost about $94 million.

According to the group's figures, the county would see a savings in the cost of treated water, especially once the bond debt was paid off.

The biggest benefit, Cole said, is security.

"It provides Forsyth County with local control over its water supply," he said. "It protects against delays and uncertainty in the tri-state water wars, if Lake Lanier would not be eligible [for withdrawals]."