The question posed in your Nov. 10 article about the proposed Shoal Creek reservoir-"Right for a Reservoir?"-is the right one to ask, right now.
While compelling reasons exist to consider this proposal, there are equally compelling reasons to permanently shelve this idea.
This project is a bad deal for Dawson County residents; a worse deal for communities downstream on the Etowah and a catastrophic deal for the federally protected fish that live in Dawson Forest's streams and rivers.
The Shoal Creek Reservoir will never supply water for Dawson County. Thanks to the Etowah Water & Sewer Authority's well-thought-out plan for the Russell Creek reservoir, Dawson County has secure water resources well into the future.
Shoal Creek's primary purpose is to send some 100 million gallons a day through a 30-mile pipeline to Metro Atlanta. That's almost as much water as flows down the Etowah on an average day in September; and it's water that will never be returned to the Etowah after use in Metro Atlanta.
There in lies the rub for downstream communities. The proposed transfer of 100 million-gallons a day to Atlanta is more than five times what the Metro region currently diverts from the Etowah. It's 100 million-gallons a day that will not fill up Lake Allatoona and will never be available to places like Canton, Marietta, Cartersville, Dallas and Rome.
As for the fish-the Cherokee and Etowah darters that reside in Shoal Creek-the dam and reservoir would wipe out the core of Dawson County's natural heritage.
The fish cannot survive in lakes. Shoal Creek is one of the last healthy strongholds for these fish, which are found nowhere else in the world.
For Dawson County residents, there are other considerations.
Under current state law, the only way for a water transfer from Dawson County to Metro Atlanta to be legal, would be for Dawson County to join the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District. As a member of the district, Dawson County would be subjected to more stringent environmental regulations, including the District's 75-foot stream buffer laws-three times the width of existing state buffer laws for Dawson County.
State law also requires a 150-foot no-development buffer along streams that feed water supply reservoirs. All of the land that drains to Shoal Creek would be subject to these laws-that's about 17 percent of Dawson County's land area.
What's more, the reservoir as proposed would necessitate the acquisition of an additional 500 acres of private land on the north side of Dawson Forest.
The reservoir would not be a mini "Lake Lanier." It would be managed for water supply purposes; recreational uses would not be a priority. In fact, motorized vessels, aside from electric motors, would not be permitted. Any claims that this will be a recreational amenity for Dawson County residents and visitors on a scale larger than the existing opportunities in Dawson Forest must be viewed with much skepticism.
Finally, the claims that this reservoir will facilitate the permanent protection of the remaining 8,000 acres of the City of Atlanta's Dawson Forest may be wishful thinking. The City of Atlanta has indicated that it is still considering Dawson Forest as a site for its second airport. With or without Shoal Creek Reservoir, Dawson County residents could still see an airport built on the land.
"Right for a Reservoir?" ...it's a good question to ask, but a better one might be: "How much are Dawson County residents willing to sacrifice to provide the City of Atlanta with water it may or may not need?"
Executive director and riverkeeper
Coosa River Basin Initiative