Alfred Blake of Sandy Springs fishes for stripers from a public boat ramp on the Chattahoochee River at Morgan Falls. Pending permits for reservoirs in Hall County and south Fulton County pushed the river into the top 10, according to Jenny Hoffner, water supply director for American rivers.
A national environmental group has listed the Chattahoochee as one of the nation’s 10 most endangered rivers, although the presumed threats do not yet exist.
In a report to be released today, Washington-based American Rivers said two planned reservoirs that would collectively draw 140 million gallons a day from the Chattahoochee River earned it the No. 3 spot on its annual top 10 list. Jenny Hoffner, water supply director for American Rivers, said pending permits for reservoirs in Hall County and south Fulton pushed the river into the top 10.
“There are critical decision points coming in the year that can decide the fate of the river," she said. "It rises to the top of our list because of those decision points. The river is being sucked dry."
The reservoirs -- Glades in Hall County and Bear Creek in south Fulton -- each have pending permit applications before federal regulators. In each case, local government officials have pitched the projects as the best way to provide drinking water to meet projected growth figures over the next half century.
Tom Oliver, chairman of the Hall County Commission, said Glades poses no more threat to the Chattahoochee than does Lake Lanier.
“They are just shooting from the hip trying to create challenges to us,” he said of the ranking.
But Hoffner said the plans for the two reservoirs are flawed and based on overinflated population projections. The American Rivers report derides the planned reservoirs as "amenity" projects, suggesting they are more about development than drinking water.
The Chattahoochee is Atlanta's primary source for drinking water, and Hoffner said low flows created by these new reservoirs will damage water quality.
"These reservoirs are just robbing Peter to pay Paul," she said.
Oliver said the criticism is premature, since the federal government has yet to rule on the environmental impact caused by the proposed reservoirs.
Hoffner said other cities -- like Seattle -- are finding conservation a more effective way to plan for future drinking water needs. But that is a rarity, she said.
“We’re starting to see community leaders reflexively reaching for reservoirs and taxpayers are the ones left holding the bag," she said.
This is the fourth time the Chattahoochee has made American Rivers' top 10 list, but it is the first time since 2000.
State officials, led by Gov. Nathan Deal's call for more regional reservoirs, have dismissed conservation alone as a way to provide for metro Atlanta's growth. Deal's promise of $300 million in state money for water supply projects has the state poised for a reservoir boom.
A dozen local governments have submitted requests totaling $189 million for the first round of funding, including Bear Creek, which has asked for $34 million.
Nationally, American Rivers is hoping citizens will call their members of Congress and urge tougher federal protections for drinking water sources.
The group called on the Obama administration to finish federal rules broadening the scope of the Clean Water Act to cover “marginal” waters like small or intermittent streams and isolated wetlands. A bill in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee seeks to halt the expansion of the act. The bill has bipartisan support and is cosponsored by Georgia Democratic Reps. John Barrow and Sanford Bishop.
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