Permit freeze eases, Roswell well process moves forward

Roswell has drilled two wells that could supply the city with 400,000 more gallons of water per day, almost a third of what it now uses. Roswell needs only the necessary state permit to tap this surplus, and the long delay in obtaining one could be over soon.

The well work was completed two years ago and $300,000 was spent, and city officials have been waiting on the the paperwork since February. Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division requires a permit for any well that withdraws 100,000 gallons per day or more, and Roswell still doesn’t have one.

"We need to clear the fog," City Councilwoman Becky Wynn said. "We'd like to get them to tell us what we need to do to get our permit."

Following inquiries from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, EPD officials said on Friday that their attorneys had given clearance to consider ground water permits, which they said were held up because of a tri-state water dispute with Alabama and Florida.

State permits for water have faced added scrutiny since July 2009, when U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that metro Atlanta had no rights to water from Lake Lanier. EPD Director Carol Couch next froze permits for new or expanded withdrawals in the Chattahoochee River Basin, water systems supplied by Lake Lanier or the Chattahoochee River below Buford Dam.

Roswell officials said the freeze shouldn't apply to them because ground water has no effect on Lake Lanier and the city's water intake is from Big Creek, and not the Chattahoochee.

EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers confirmed that the state moratorium on permit applications has included ground water and surface water.

Adding to the water fight, Roswell officials said they were never told this, and the governor's office likewise said its directive after the Magnuson ruling never included restrictions on ground water permits.

Bert Brantley, spokesman for Gov. Sonny Perdue, said Georgia considers the judge's ruling an injunction against tampering with flows from Lake Lanier and along the Chattahoochee River. Brantley speculated EPD attorneys may have needed to clear ground water permits with Alabama and Florida, causing the delay.

"[The EPD] has now been given clearance to proceed with ground water permit applications, and that includes the City of Roswell," Chambers said.

Roswell's application heads for a 30-day public comment beginning Jan. 5, and comments will be considered by EPD during the final approval process, Chambers said.

Roswell already has secured a $970,000 grant from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to make the wells operational and incorporate them into the water system. The city would supply another $330,000 from its water and sewer enterprise fund.

An alternative water source could enable Roswell to promote commercial and residential growth. It could also save the city millions in costs, because ground water is much cheaper to treat than lake or river water, officials said.

The city operates a system that serves 14,000 residents. It draws the majority of its water from Big Creek, which supplies 1.2 million gallons per day, just shy of its average daily demand of 1.4 million gallons. The city supplements its supply with water from Fulton County, last year paying Fulton $650,000 for 200 million gallons.

Roswell is not the only metro Atlanta city or county pursuing well water. The EPD currently has 26 water permit applications, and four  are for ground water.

In August, Forsyth County submitted permits for three 24-inch diameter wells. The EPD responded two months later by seeking additional information, said county spokesperson Jodi Gardner. The county gets the vast majority of its water through the City of Cumming's supply from Lake Lanier. A small portion is purchased from Fulton County.

Woodstock is in the early phases of exploring municipal well water. Pat Flood, public works director, said the city is in discussions with companies to see what the process will involve.

College Park will perform exploratory drilling for water on Dec. 21, city spokesman Gerald Walker said. The city will go down about 600 feet at a spot near Princeton Avenue, he said.