By Joe Cook
Coosa River Basin Initiative
Two environmental groups are giving local residents as well as elected officials an opportunity to visit the site of a highly controversial proposed reservoir that would be built in the midst of the 10,000-acre Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area near Dawsonville.
On Saturday, April 2, the Coosa River Basin Initiative (CRBI) and Georgia Sierra Club will host a 1.5-mile hike to Shoal Creek where participants will have the opportunity to learn about the proposed water supply reservoir and see native fish species that inhabit Shoal Creek.
Wildlife biologists from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will collect fish from the creek, allowing participants to have an”up-close-and-in-person” encounter with these fish through small viewing tanks.
The fish are one of the many reasons the proposed reservoir has drawn the attention of environmental groups. Shoal Creek is considered prime habitat for many unique fish species, including the federally protected Etowah and Cherokee darters.
“In terms of impacts to biodiversity, this is perhaps the single worst place you could build a reservoir in the Upper Etowah River Basin,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director and Riverkeeper at the Coosa River Basin Initiative in Rome.
Opponents of the reservoir have also raised concerns about its impact to downstream communities like Canton, Cartersville and Rome. As proposed, the 1,200-acre reservoir would include a pipeline that would transfer as much as 100 million gallons of water each day from the Etowah many miles south to Metro Atlanta communities.
A water withdrawal of this magnitude amounts to nearly 100 percent of the river’s flow during the critical late summer low-flow season. During periods of peak flows, a 100 million gallon daily withdrawal constitutes more than one-fourth the river’s volume, according to an analysis by CRBI.
The proposal runs contrary to current state law which prohibits the transfer of water from outside the Metro Atlanta region into region.
The reservoir is estimated to cost $650 million to construct, but water conservation advocates suggest that Metro Atlanta could create some 133 million gallons per day in water savings by pursuing aggressive water conservation measures. The cost of these measures would top out at $134 million, according to American Rivers, a national river advocacy group that has analyzed Metro Atlanta’s water needs.
Currently, the City of Atlanta owns the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area and leases the property to Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources. The Forest attracts thousands of hikers, bikers, horseback riders, hunters, anglers and boaters each year.
The Etowah Water & Sewer Authority in Dawsonville and other private entities are currently courting the City of Atlanta to sell the property or form a water-selling partnership. The impetus to build the reservoir has been heightened by a recent federal court ruling that could prevent Metro Atlanta communities from continuing to rely on Lake Lanier as a primary drinking water source. The Shoal Creek reservoir is viewed as an alternative to Lake Lanier.
The hike begins at 11 a.m. and is limited to the first 30 people to register. If response demands, a second hike will begin at 2 p.m. Pre-registration is required to participate. Interested parties can register for the hike at http://www.coosa.org/shoal-creek-saunter-hike-ii/view or call 706-232-2724 for more details.