The Bear Creek Reservoir water supply project made a statewide list Wednesday, marking it as one of 12 entities the Georgia Water Coalition considers the worst offenders of the state’s water ways.
The “Dirty Dozen” 12 problematic waterways were released during a press briefing, and Bear Creek was on it, even though the Newton County Board of Commissioners voted to suspend work on it last month.
The project, the Georgia Water Coalition said, was an example of the state’s misguided water policies.
“The Dirty Dozen is not a list of the most polluted water bodies in Georgia, nor are they ranked in any particular order,” said Joe Cook, Advocacy and Communication Coordinator at the Coosa River Basin Initiative, which also made the list. "It’s a list of problems that exemplify the results of inadequate funding for Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD), a lack of political will to enforce existing environmental protections, and ultimately misguided water planning and spending priorities that flow from the very top of Georgia’s leadership.”
The reservoir project was nominated by Covington resident Larry McSwain, who said the nomination was “vetted by representatives from many different conservation groups around the state. Most of these individuals are professional ecologists, attorneys, biologists and other environmental experts who are advocates for our state's water resources.”
Long a critic of the project, McSwain said Bear Creek was “an example of one of several water supply projects in Georgia that deserve a more thorough justification in light of reduced growth projections and reduced consumption rates.”
“They agreed that the potential impacts of the Bear Creek Reservoir on local water resources, state water policy and on our community are significant enough for this issue to be placed on their list,” he said.
Newton County Attorney W. T. “Tommy” Craig said the coalition “is always listing every potential reservoir project. It’s nothing new. They’ve listed every potential water supply project on the list.
“The list never takes into consideration whether this is the best possible location for the reservoir,” he said. “I’m not as impressed with the list as I would be if they were trying to suggest alternatives.”
The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted to suspend all work on the reservoir project at its Oct. 20 meeting. First proposed 15 years ago to meet the demands of what, at the time, was Newton County’s population, the reservoir project was criticized by citizen and environmental groups for moving forward despite the significant drop in predicted population growth.
The Army Corps of Engineers administratively withdrew the county’s 404 permit application in August, citing the county’s failure to provide adequate materials justifying the need for the reservoir.
Originally estimated to cost $62 million, the most recent projections put the total cost of the reservoir at an estimated $125 million.
The 11 other offenders listed by on the Georgia Water Coalition’s 2015 “Dirty Dozen” list includes:
• the timber harvest near Cooper Creek threat to muddy mountain streams,
• the state’s “confusing laws” on stream buffers, leaving some streams unprotected,
• the dumping of trash by recreational users of the Chattahoochee,
• Georgia’s hazardous waste sites,
• the power plant on the Coosa River killing fish, and
• proposed drilling off Georgia’s coast threatening tourism and fisheries.
For a complete list and more information about the coalition, visit http://www.garivers.org/gawater/dirtydozen.htm.