The largest public works project the county has ever seen was finally given the green light for construction late last month: A nearly $40 million reservoir to be built by the Etowah Water and Sewer Authority.
Etowah Water and Sewer Authority General Manager Brooke Anderson last week announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued the authority a 404 permit on July 21, a permit the authority has been working to gain since starting the project in 13 years ago.
The permit is required when the corps controls a body of water such as they do with the Etowah River.
Water to fill the 700 foot long, 700 foot wide and 110 foot deep earthen dam will be pumped from the Etowah River into the Russell Creek Reservoir, which according to Anderson will be capable of producing 11.5 million gallons of drinking water per day.
The reservoir will be located on 137 acres of land off Etowah River and Seed Tick roads.
Anderson said he expects the reservoir to be constructed, completed and filled by 2023.
“At that point in time we will have our own drinking water supply that is designed to last us 50 years and give us a secure water supply for Dawson County,” he said.
With the population swelling to an estimated 126,000 in the next 50 years, the need for the reservoir is greater than ever, Anderson said. Preparing for the reservoir, the authority looked at other alternatives to increase the drinking water supply.
According to Anderson, Dawson County has shoreline on Lake Lanier but no access to the water, and there is not enough groundwater in the county to support such a large population.
“We looked at purchasing that water from our neighbors and a lot of them are involved in their own water wars and their first priority is taking care of their own needs,” he said. “One of the alternatives that we looked at is not building it at all, which would severely hamper Dawson County’s ability to grow going forward.”
These things together, along with pressure from the state Environmental Protection Division, compelled the authority to build its own reservoir.
Dawson County Board of Commissioners Chairman Billy Thurmond said Friday that the authority receiving the permit is good news for the future of Dawson County.
“Water and sewer is a big economic driver especially in the 400 corridor, so that’s definitely a need for the county,” Thurmond said.
The project has been so long in the planning stages because of the many studies performed and red tape the authority had to navigate. That included on-site work studying how the construction might affect local species as well as any impact on cultural or historical artifacts and remains.
The authority also completed a cumulative impact study, where they evaluated the impact of the Russell Creek Reservoir, the Richland Creek Reservoir in Paulding County and the Indian Creek Reservoir in Carroll County. The results showed negligible impact on the watershed, which empties in Mobile Bay in the Gulf of Mexico.
“This really is a big deal for Dawson County,”Etowah Water and Sewer Authority General Manager Brooke Anderson
The authority coordinated the project with a long list of organizations, Anderson said, including the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Environmental Protection Agency, the corps of engineers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state EPD, Department of Natural Resources and multiple environmental groups.
“All of that coordination and collaboration takes time,” Anderson said. “We are grateful for the collaboration that we’ve had with these agencies.”
In January the authority will begin detailed design of the reservoir and pump station with the aid of an outside engineering firm, and then bid out the construction work.
The funds for the work will come mostly from loans from state agencies.
In 2014 the authority was issued a $10 million loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. Anderson said he hopes that GEFA can grant the authority an additional loan of $20 million.
“We credit Gov. Nathan Deal for creating the governor’s water supply funding program which allows small communities like us to have access to money and funds at good rates and terms to allow these projects to move forward,” he said. “Without the governor’s leadership in creating that, it would be much more expensive to build this reservoir.”
Anderson said he also wanted to thank the many groups and leaders that helped the authority get the green light for the project, including the authority’s board of directors, Gov. Deal, Speaker David Ralston, Rep. Kevin Tanner, Sen. Steve Gooch and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle.
Tanner said it has been his privilege to work with Etowah Water over the last several years on this process.
“One of our most important resources is water,” he said. “This reservoir will help ensure that our community has ample supply for many years to come as our community grows. Congratulations to Etowah on reaching this milestone after many years of hard work.”
“We can do the best job that we can do, but without the support in Atlanta this project would not have come to pass,” Anderson said. “This really is a big deal for Dawson County.”