Originally created 02/08/00

Officials push to keep public from resevoir



Georgia environmental officials want the city to close Augusta's raw-water reservoir at Highland Avenue to the public. Utilities Director Max Hicks has asked city commissioners to limit access by March 15.

Concerns about parasitical contamination and acts of terrorism that could endanger Augusta's water supply prompted Onder Serefli, manager of the state Environmental Protection Division's drinking water permitting and engineering program, to call for closing the popular recreation area to the public.

Mr. Serefli asked city officials to relocate the Central Avenue skateboard facility that's next to a sedimentation pond because bottles and trash are being thrown into it.

The state previously has urged that the reservoir be closed, but area residents who use it to jog or walk their dogs vehemently opposed the move, said Augusta commissioners who discussed the issue at Monday's engineering services committee meeting.

State officials are concerned that dog excrement around the reservoir creates a potential for water to become contaminated with crypto sporidium, a parasite immune to chlorination and other processes used to purify drinking water. The parasites, found in mammals' fecal matter, are difficult to detect, Mr. Hicks said.

People are not supposed to take dogs to the reservoir, but many ignore the signs, Mr. Hicks said.

Commissioner Stephen Shepard, who represents residents of the west Augusta area, spoke against the closing without providing alternative recreation.

"The recreational uses of the raw-water reservoir are low impact," Mr. Shepard said. "They are bicycling, jogging, hiking. The raw water reservoir has long been used by the folks in that area, which is principally Forest Hills and Summerville."

Mr. Shepard said there has not been an incident in the past, only a concern from the state about a potential one.

"The skateboard park has been a poorer neighbor than the people who use the raw-water reservoir," Mr. Shepard said. "This is raw water. It's not treated water, and I think there are some potential problems for dogs, but they are minor."

Commissioners should consider creating another recreational area, Commissioner Andy Cheeks said, adding "there is a clear and present concern about the vulnerability of the reservoir to bad acts or acts of terrorism.

"If we don't block this off, we're taking an extreme chance with our water-drinking population," Mr. Cheeks said.

Not closing the reservoir to the public is too risky, Commissioner Richard Colclough said.

"In the past, people were kind of honorable," he said. "What we're looking at is if somebody walking threw a pellet of anthrax in that thing, we're all dead."

Mr. Shepard proposed the commission study the issue and present the community an alternative.

"The present alternative is, `Closure. Tough. It's too bad,"' he said. "... I would like to see some alternatives identified for this neighborhood that are positive."

City officials will study recreation alternatives and present them at the next engineering services committee meeting.

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.