Will Dawson Forest WMA Become A Water Supply Reservoir For Atlanta?

Joe DiPietro | October 2, 2009

In three or four years, there is a possibility 2,000 acres of the 10,000-arcre Dawson Forest WMA will be under water. A reservoir to supply water for the Atlanta area has been proposed. It would be open to angling and other recreational uses, according to an official with the development firm pushing the project, at the loss of 2,000 acres to hunters.

“The other 8,000 acres of land would remain undeveloped wilderness in perpetuity,” said Jerry Daws, CEO of Republic Resources Inc., an Atlanta development firm trying to drum up support from the City of Atlanta.

If built, the reservoir “would be open to the public for fishing,” Daws said. “We’re also planning to designate hunting for deer and small game.”

Daws suggested a conservation board would be created to manage the land and reservoir. He said the board would likely include DNR officials.

“Certainly if they build a reservoir, we would like to explore waterfowl hunting and fishing opportunities on it,” said Ken Riddleberger with WRD’s Region II. “We’ve not been approached about it at this point, though.”

The impetus for the project is to supply drinking water to the Atlanta region.

The Etowah Water and Sewer Authority is seeking to work in a public-private relationship with Republic Resources Inc. to transfer the entire 10,000-acre tract to the authority. Atlanta has owned the land since the early 1970s, originally purchased with future plans to build an airport.

If a deal is reached, the plan would be to construct the reservoir by damming a section of Shoal Creek, a tributary of the Etowah River, according to Etowah Water and Sewer Authority General Manager Brooke Anderson.

In addition to the reservoir, Anderson said the project includes a 100-million-gallon-per-day water treatment plant and a 38-mile-long, 84-inch-wide water main to Fulton County to serve areas such as Cumming and Forsyth.

“It would be a good thing for a lot of folks down there,” he said. “It would be designed to meet regional needs.”

The project has an estimated $600- to $650-million price tag and would be financed by Republic Resources Inc. and then repaid over 30 years through the sale of water and sewer service, Daws said.

If the City of Atlanta approves the land transfer, environmental impact studies, permitting from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and Georgia EPD, and construction planning would begin immediately, Daws said.

However, the proposed project is not without hiccups. The endangered Etowah Darter and Cherokee Darter are native to Shoal Creek, said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Supervisory Biologist Robin Goodloe.

“We’re working with the water authority to determine the degree of affect the project may have on the endangered species,” she said.

There is also an inter-basin transfer issue of water from one river system to another, Daws said.

“There’s never been a water-supply project like this in the state,” he said. “We hope to have an agreement about this with Atlanta by the end of this calendar year.”

If that happens, Daws said the project should be completed in three to four years.

In terms of the federal deadline to find new water sources for Atlanta, the Etowah project would be finished “as close to it as we can get and still make it,” Anderson said.

Atlanta officials did not respond before presstime to repeated phone calls for comment.

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