Population growth stirs worries about stress on region’s water supply | ajc.com

 

By Leon Stafford

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

When Colin Cavill began planning the 325-unit Enso Atlanta apartments near Grant Park three years ago, water was at the top of his mind.

Colin Cavill focused on water conservation when he developed the Enso Atlanta apartments in Grant Park, which, among other things, has a saltwater pool and a cistern for  rainwater harvesting that holds over 76,000 gallons.

Phil Skinner, AJC Colin Cavill focused on water conservation when he developed the Enso Atlanta apartments in Grant Park, which, among other things, has a saltwater pool and a cistern for rainwater harvesting that holds over 76,000 gallons.

 

Simply put: The metro’s area’s supply is limited, and he didn’t want to make matters worse.

So Cavill — who says his company, Capital 33, wanted to “help reduce our footprint” — developed the complex as a green project. Toilets and faucets are low-flow, shower heads are water-efficient, and a cistern collects water for the landscaping.

Cavill’s efforts may need to be become the norm as the state struggles with its limited water supply, experts say.

Metro Atlanta grew by 1 million people over the past decade, according to the U.S. census, and water — or lack thereof — could decide its continued strength as a region, the experts said.

“Growth goes where the water is and not vice versa,” said Gil Rogers, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Larry Neal, a senior principal for Mactec Engineering and Consulting, which has worked with the state on drinking water assessments, said a solution is critical for job growth. If water supply is stretched thin, it could be more expensive for business to tap. That could dissuade prospects from considering locating in metro Atlanta.

“If there is uncertainty,” he said, “it can cause a business to steer away. … You don’t want water to become the limiting factor in any given area.”

The state recognizes the risks. It has authorized the construction of reservoirs, created a Water Supply Task Force and adopted some conservation measures. Many cities and counties in the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, which includes metro Atlanta, are offering rebates to homeowners who replace older toilets with low-flow models.

One of the biggest challenges remains the state’s dispute with Alabama and Florida over access to Lake Lanier. U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled in 2009 that it was illegal for the Army Corps of Engineers to draw water from the lake to meet the needs of 3 million metro residents. Magnuson set a July 2012 deadline for the states to resolve the dispute. Otherwise, metro Atlanta would be limited to the same amount of water it received in the mid-1970s, when the population was less than one-third its current size. Georgia is appealing the ruling.

“Some of our issues are the litigation and uncertainty about the future,” said Pat Stevens, chief of environmental planning at the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Stevens said that despite the population growth, water use in metro Atlanta is down. She said the population in the North Georgia water district grew 28 percent between 2000 and 2009. Usage, however, was down to 512 million gallons of water a day in 2009, compared with a high in 2006 of 602 million gallons.

A number of factors led to the reduction, including conservation, severe water restrictions during several years of drought and the economic downturn, which may have forced residents to curtail tapping water they could not afford.

Also, 2009 was a rainy year, lessening the need to water yards and gardens.

“It really rained a lot that year. Actually the last year that was more close to our norm was in 2006,” Stevens said. The metro area’s rainfall was 69.4 inches in 2009 and 48.5 inches in 2006.

Alan Wexler, president of Databank Atlanta, a r, said if water were to become less abundant, it could lead to restrictions that would put commercial and residential real estate projects on hold. That happened in the years of drought in 2007 and 2008.

Solving the issue is critical because the economy has stymied real estate growth the past few years. When the recovery comes, no one wants to be sidelined because of water, he said.

“You have so many factors that are fluid right now,” he said.

Population growth stirs worries about stress on region’s water supply  | ajc.com.

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GA Wins One Battle in Water Wars over Lake Lanier

via GA Wins One Battle in Water Wars over Lake Lanier – 11Alive.com | WXIA | Atlanta, GA.
Posted By –  The Associated Press 

Last Updated On:  7/22/2010 12:11:53 PM

 

ATLANTA — A federal judge has rejected demands from Florida that more water be released from Lake Lanier, Metro Atlanta’s main source for drinking water.

U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson on Wednesday rejected Florida’s request that more water be released from the lake to help endangered or threatened species in the Apalachicola and other rivers. Those species are the Gulf sturgeon, fat threeridge mussel and the purple bankclimber mussel.

“Judge Magnuson’s rejection of Florida’s efforts to seek a judicial decree for higher downstream flows that were not supported by science or the law is a major victory for Georgia,” Governor Sonny Perdue said in a statement Thursday. “Any kind of higher guaranteed flow for Florida would have put a strain on Georgia communities up and down the Chattahoochee River. We always felt the use of the Endangered Species Act was just a ruse to try and wring more water out of Georgia. Judge Magnuson recognized that and issued a common-sense ruling that allows the three states to continue meaningful talks.”

Judge Magnuson has threatened to severely restrict Metro Atlanta’s use of the reservoir by 2012 unless leaders in Georgia, Alabama and Florida can strike a deal.

“With this ruling in hand, it is time for the three governors to come back together at the negotiating table and continue our ongoing efforts to finally reach a water-sharing agreement that benefits all three states,” Perdue said. “We stand ready and willing to engage at the earliest opportunity possible.”

Magnuson earlier ruled that Atlanta has little legal right to drinking water from Lake Lanier.

DeKalb residents could see water bills double

Source
AJC.com
By Megan Matteucci

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

A DeKalb County family’s water and sewer bill could increase 110 percent from 2009 to 2014 — and even more if the state declares a drought.

The upgrades are needed to help pay for $1.79 billion in capital improvements to DeKalb’s water system, Watershed Management director Francis Kung’u said.

“Our water and sewer infrastructure is aging,” Kung’u told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday. “If we don’t do this, it will continue to degrade. We will get more breaks and won’t have enough capacity of wastewater treatment. We won’t be able to support growth of the county.”

The county is proposing to raise water and sewer rates 16 percent each year through fiscal year 2014.

The County Commission already approved a 16 percent rate increase for fiscal years 2009 and 2010, but is now looking at the additional increases to cover the plant repairs.

For a family that uses 4,000-20,000 gallons a month, it means an increase of 110 percent in their bill. The maximum bimonthly bill that was $165 in 2009 would be $347 in 2014.

But some county commissioners fear that may be too much for some residents in DeKalb, where 10.4 percent are unemployed and 68 percent of students in the school system qualify for free or reduced meals.

“When you look at the proposed rate increases, it’s got me thinking about reality,” Commissioner Lee May said. “Regardless if you call it a tax or a fee, the realization is that it comes out of everyone’s pocket.”

A vote will likely not be taken until next month at the earliest, Commissioner Larry Johnson said.

The commission is waiting for more information on the water department’s staffing and budget before agreeing to approve the rates. Ninety of the department’s employees are leaving at the end of the month through an early retirement program, but the department wants to fill 70 of those positions.

Those workers are needed for daily water main breaks and other repair work, said Ted Rhinehart, deputy chief operating officer of infrastructure.

“Those are the workers who do the day-to-day functions,” he said. “It’s so we don’t make a bad situation worse. We know we have a lot of pipes to repair.”

That repair list could get much worse if the county doesn’t upgrade the water system, Kung’u said.

The $1.79 billion covers 83 different projects, including expanding the county’s two wastewater plants and adding more clean storage wells at the county’s one drinking water plant. DeKalb also must fund 48 percent of all upgrades to Atlanta’s R.M. Clayton Wastewater Treatment Plant, which the county shares with the city, Kung’u said.

DeKalb plans to issue $350 million in bonds this year, $733 million in fiscal year 2012 and $277 million in fiscal year 2014.

In addition to the water system upgrades, the increased rates are also needed to help offset a drop in revenue from mandatory water restrictions, Kung’u said.

In 2009, the drought restrictions caused DeKalb water use to drop about 7.5 percent, which resulted in a $28.3 million loss. The county expects to lose about $34.3 million this year because of the water restrictions.

To help prevent that problem in future years, the water department is proposing to raise rates even more if the state declares a drought. Kung’u is asking commissioners to add on a 5 percent increase if the governor declares a Level 2 drought, a 10 percent increase for a Level 3 drought and a 15 percent increase for a Level 4 drought.

“Over the next several years, everybody else will be adjusting rates,” Kung’u said. “But for now, we are still below average in the metro region.”

That region average includes the city of Atlanta, which has water rates that are about double the surrounding counties because of its sewer project, Kung’u said.

Atlanta has approved a 56 percent increase from 2008-2012. The rates are supposed to go up about 12 percent each year until June 2012. The city is also considering adding a stormwater fee, which could be as high as $120 a year for some homes.

Fulton approved a 15 percent water hike in May 2008 and has no plans to raise rates, according to Public Works Director Angela Parker.

Cobb is expected to reapprove water and sewer increases in November. Starting in January, water rates will go up 8 percent, and sewer rates will increase 4 percent.

Gwinnett County passed a resolution last year establishing water and sewer rate increases each January through 2015. Customers began paying $4.11 per 1,000 gallons of water this year, up 25 cents from 2009. The rate goes up to $4.38 in 2011. The same is true for sewer service. Gwinnett customers now pay $5.38 per 1,000 gallons, up 47 cents from last year. The rate rises to $5.89 at the first of next year.

Clayton County has no plans to raise water rates. In August 2009, it raised water rates by 6 percent for residents who use more than 3,000 gallons a month, said Clayton County Water Authority spokeswoman Suzanne Brown.

Cherokee County does not anticipate a rate increase, but the Woodstock City Council is considering raising rates as much as 13 percent.

Staff writers Jeffry Scott, Christopher Quinn, Janel Davis and Patrick Fox contributed to this article.

Water usage

DeKalb customers who use 0-4,000 gallons a month

Number of customers: 51,749

Percent of total customers: 32 percent

2010 bimonthly bill: $46

2012 bimonthly bill: $62

2014 bimonthly bill: $83

DeKalb customers who use 4,001-20,000 gallons a month

Number of customers: 100,723

Percent of total customers: 62 percent

2010 bimonthly bill: $192

2012 bimonthly bill: $258

2014 bimonthly bill: $347

*Bill amount is the maximum

Current average monthly water and sewer bill for a customer who uses 6,000 gallons a month

DeKalb: $51

Clayton: $53

Cobb: $54

Fulton: $56

Gwinnett: $60

Cherokee: $61

City of Atlanta: $121

Source: DeKalb County Watershed Management Department

State files appeal in water case

Source
Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Dave Williams Staff Writer

Lake Lanier was intended as a water supply for metro Atlanta from its inception, the state of Georgia contends in its appeal of a federal court ruling that threatens to cut off most of that water.

The appeal, filed Thursday with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, argues that U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson misinterpreted the intent of Congress in authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build the federal reservoir in 1946.

In ruling last summer that Lake Lanier was never intended as a regional water supply, Magnuson gave Georgia until July 2012 to reach a water sharing agreement with Alabama and Florida governing the Chattahoochee River system.

Otherwise, under his order, water allocations from Lanier would be rolled back to levels not seen since the mid-1970s.

“When Congress authorized the Corps to build Buford Dam, it approved plans specifically stating that releases would be made to provide water supply to metropolitan Atlanta and that such releases would increase as the area developed,” Georgia’s lawyers wrote.

The state’s appeal went on to argue that even if the judge was correct in his conclusions, his order metes out excessive punishment to metro Atlanta water customers.

“The order reaches far more broadly than is necessary to rectify any violation of those statutes,” according to the appeal. “It ignores the substantial likelihood that the Corps would be able to meet some (even if not all) of Atlanta’s current and future water needs and prevents the Corps from examining that possibility.”

While the appeal unfolds, Georgia’s lawyers are continuing to negotiate with their counterparts from the other states on a water allocation deal.

A third prong in Perdue’s water strategy, legislation mandating water conservation in Georgia, passed the General Assembly last month and is awaiting the governor’s signature.