In anticipation of a declaration tomorrow from the Environmental Protection Division that 2001 will again be a drought year for Georgia, five environmental groups are calling for a "go-slow" approach in the construction of new reservoirs. Without a statewide plan for water management, the coalition believes that drought planning with reservoirs as a solution is premature.
The Altamaha Riverkeeper, Georgia Conservancy, Georgia River Network, National Wildlife Federation and Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper have written Governor Roy Barnes requesting a comprehensive study of the cumulative impacts of reservoirs and impoundments, a moratorium on permitting and construction of new reservoirs until the study is completed, and evaluation of conservation and growth management strategies as alternatives to reservoirs.
Since 1985, 26 permits have been issues to construct reservoirs. An additional 33 reservoirs either are proposed or in the permitting phase.
"We're seeing a 'gold rush' mentality when it comes to reservoirs," said Andrew Schock, director, Southeastern Natural Resource Center, National Wildlife Federation. "Before we undertake reservoir projects that may cause irreparable harm to the affected rivers and streams, it is imperative that a comprehensive study of water supply needs and alternative solutions be carried out."
Sally Bethea, executive director of Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said that the so-called cumulative effects of reservoirs pose a real threat to Georgia's rich natural heritage. "We owe it to future generations to examine and consider the collective impacts of existing and planned reservoirs on the long-term health of Georgia's river systems before the state proceeds with any additional reservoir construction," she said.
As required by the Flint River Protection Act, EPD is expected to announce March 1 that Georgia will again experience a drought during 2001. Although EPD's Drought Management Planning Committee has yet to complete its assigned task to develop a long-term strategy for managing water supply in Georgia, in its 1998-2000 Georgia Drought Report EPD has called for the construction of regional reservoirs to effectively address the long-term water supply needs of Georgia's communities.
Georgia already has numerous large reservoirs on main rivers and thousands of small impoundments on tributaries. These structures have altered the natural flow of streams and rivers and affected the native fish, mussels and other organisms that live there. Much of Georgia's remaining aquatic biodiversity occurs on streams and rivers where new reservoirs are most likely to be built. The coalition fears that the construction of hundreds of new impoundments throughout the state will accelerate the loss of aquatic biodiversity and exacerbate conflicts between upstream and downstream water users.
Ellen Sutherland, executive director of Georgia River Network, said, "The proliferation of reservoirs in North Georgia, and other parts of the state has significant implications for all Georgians. Permitting authorities must take a comprehensive view of water management in Georgia, explore alternatives to reservoirs before damming our remaining free-flowing rivers, and seek a balance between economic development and environmental quality."
John Sibley, president of The Georgia Conservancy, continued, "As a state we must address how to use the water we have more efficiently. Strategies such as conservation, growth management, industrial reuse and gray-water systems may be able to deliver a predictable water supply without the environmental damage that is likely to occur with the wholesale construction of reservoirs."
"We must evaluate the real costs of reservoirs before we seize on them as a solution to water supply issues," said Deborah Shepherd, executive director of the Altamaha Riverkeeper. "Without a statewide plan and without a thorough analysis of the cumulative impacts of reservoir construction, there are simply too many unanswered questions."