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After $16 million, Glades Reservoir not "viable," state says

Back in November, The AJC reported that the state was changing its policy toward the proposed Glades Reservoir in Hall County.

Jud Turner, executive director of the state Environmental Protection Division, acknowledged that combination of slower-than-project population growth and metro area water conservation efforts meant that Glades was no longer needed as a drinking water reservoir.

“We are in the middle of a significant water policy shift for the state,” Turner said at the time.

Turner backed up those remarks recently in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps on Engineers where he described Glades as "no longer reasonable or even viable."

"Glades Reservoir is no longer part of any strategy to meet the water supply needs of the state through 2050," Turner said in a 31-page memo to the Corps.

The Glades comments came as part of the state's official comments to the long-awaited (but boring-to-describe) Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin Water Control Manual. The manual basically is the federal government's operating instructions for the ACF Basin, which includes the Chattahoochee River, Lake Lanier and most of Atlanta's drinking water.

The proposed manual made news in Atlanta, in part, because it included Glades as a functional part of the water system despite the fact that Hall County has yet to receive the needed federal permit to build it.

To underline his point about Glades not being needed, in his letter to the Corps' Mobile, Ala., office, Turner noted he had pulled an earlier document from the Corps' Savannah bureau called a "certification of need," which is exactly what it sounds like.

Hall County has spent some $16 million over the past two decades on the Glades project and county officials have pushed back against the state's lowered population projections which indicate the reservoir isn't needed.

"Hall County isn't on the same page as the state," said Juliette Cohen, executive director of the environmental group Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, which has long opposed the reservoir.

But just because the state does not support Glades as a drinking water reservoir does not mean the reservoir is dead. Last year, Turner told the AJC Glades could be used to boost the flow in the river basin with timed releases of stored water. He reiterated that possibility in the letter to the Corps.

Were such a plan to get Corps approval, Glades could be used as a bargaining chip in settling the long legal feud between Georgia, Alabama and Florida over water use.

Nonetheless, Cohen said the Turner memo is important.

“Now it’s an official stated position by the state in response to the water control manual," she said. “We think it is a significant change in the state’s position on a formal basis.”

You can read Turner's full memo here.

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Joyner’s column, AJC Watchdog, investigates topics in your community and Georgia.