As one of the authors of the Georgia Water Coalition's Dirty Dozen list (on which the proposed Shoal Creek Reservoir in Dawson Forest was included), I am compelled to respond to assertions made in Commissioner Gary Pichon's letter to the editor of Nov. 16 ("Calling Water Dirty.")
The water that flows out of the hollows of Dawson and Lumpkin counties and through the Etowah River is not owned by anyone. No one can claim it as "their water."
Georgia is a "regulated riparian rights" state which means that anyone living adjacent to a body of water has the right to its reasonable use, but the rights of one user must balance with those of others.
Dawson County has the right to utilize the Etowah River for its water supply and its water utility is proactively doing that very thing.
The Etowah Water and Sewer Authority has plans to construct a new reservoir on Russell Creek that will meet the water needs of Dawson County at least until 2050. This is a sensible project expanding an already existing reservoir so that impacts to Russell Creek, the Etowah and federally protected fish species are minimized.
But, Shoal Creek Reservoir, as currently envisioned, is not a project that will supply Dawson County with water. And, it appears that it will have significant impacts - both to downstream communities and protected fish.
Let's compare the two projects:
Russell Creek will provide 17 million gallons per day, or MGD, that will be used by Dawson County residents. After use, it will, by and large, make its way back to the Etowah and be available to downstream communities. Estimated price tag for the project is $30 million.
On the other hand, Shoal Creek, as currently planned, will provide some 80-100 MGD - all of it to be piped to metro Atlanta. It will not be returned to the Etowah and will not be unavailable for downstream communities. And, average flows on the Etowah in critical low flow months are only slightly more than 100 MGD. Estimated price tag for the project is $650 million.
Both projects impact federally protected fish, but Shoal Creek would wipe out a thriving community of darters; Russell Creek would impact a small, already isolated population of darters. A dam on Shoal Creek for darters is the human equivalent of an atom bomb dropped on Atlanta. Its effects would be devastating and could push the fish to the brink of extinction.
In fact, the fish have not survived the construction of Lake Allatoona, as Commissioner Pichon asserts ... though they did survive the construction of Lanier (the fish never existed in the Chattahoochee and are found nowhere else in the world except the Etowah). Because of Allatoona Dam and other reservoirs, miles and miles of habitat for the Etowah, Cherokee and amber darters has been eliminated and populations isolated.
Since they cannot live in lakes, their continued survival is in question.
If not for Allatoona Dam and the other dams in the Upper Etowah (there are seven significant dams in Dawson County alone), these fish would likely not be listed as endangered or threatened. Yet it is possible to save these fish while still meeting the water needs of our growing communities if we act wisely (think Russell Creek vs. Shoal Creek).
We applaud the commission for its desire to preserve Dawson Forest and we believe there are ways to accomplish that goal - and provide water for the region - without sacrificing Shoal Creek or the water rights of downstream communities.
Executive Director & Riverkeeper
Coosa River Basin Initiative