Shifting Savannah River water to Atlanta area costly, report says

Transferring water from the Savannah River basin to metro Atlanta is feasible, but would be more expensive than other options, according to a report prepared for Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Water Contingency Task Force.

Consultants suggested metro Atlanta could supplement its water supply through interbasin transfers from Lake Hartwell on the Savannah River and from Lake Burton, which also lies within the Savannah River basin.

Similar transfers were proposed from the Tennessee River and West Point Lake.

Bert Brantley, Gov. Perdue’s spokesman, said the committee’s evaluation of such potentially controversial actions should not be taken as any sort of plan.

“What this presentation did, was to offer a technical analysis of every idea that they could come up with,” he said. “The governor was very clear going into this: let’s don’t take any idea off the table until we get it plotted and see what the costs and benefits would be.”

The report, presented Nov. 23 to the 80-member committee at the Governor’s Mansion, said 100 million gallons per day could be pumped from Hartwell into Lake Lanier, where a raw water plant could process it for use by Gwinnett County residents.

The study showed the longterm cost per million gallons would be about $680, with similar transfers from Lake Burton costing about $415 per million gallons. Pumping from the Tennessee River and West Point were even more expensive, with costs per million gallons estimated at $890 and $1,110, respectively.

“A lot of the transfers aren’t very cost effective because of all the infrastructure that would be needed – piping, pump stations, that sort of thing,” Mr. Brantley said. “They don’t rate nearly as well as other ideas.”

Consultants also suggested the expansion of existing reservoirs and construction of new lakes closer to Atlanta, as well as more groundwater wells. Most of those options yielded lower costs.

“One of the interesting things this presentation showed is that, while people thought interbasin transfers would be more cost effective, they really don’t measure up as well as some of the other ideas,” Mr. Brantley said.

One of the main strategies that will be a part of any plan is conservation, he added. “The cheapest gallon is the gallon you save,” he said, “but that only gets yo so far.”

The scramble to identify water options was accelerated last summer, when U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson concluded Atlanta’s withdrawals from Lake Lanier to accommodate almost 4 million residents were illegal because the lake was built for hydropower—not drinking water.

The ruling was a victory for Alabama and Florida, which have argued for decades that Georgia is taking more than its share of water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin. Georgia was ordered to stop taking Lanier’s water within three years unless Congress authorizes continued use.

The task force, appointed in October, was charged with identifying the best solutions to avoid water shortages.

Mr. Brantley said the recent presentation was an inaugural look at potential options.

“The only analysis here is cost benefit,” he said. “There was no consideration given to environmental concerns or political reasons. It was literally meant to get all ideas on the table, both good and bad.”

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