For years, the South Fulton Municipal Regional Water and Sewer Authority (Authority)—made up of Fairburn, Palmetto and Union City—planned to build a new water supply reservoir on a Chattahoochee tributary known as Bear Creek. The municipalities proposed a 440-acre reservoir that would be filled by pumping water—up to 32 million gallons daily—from the Chattahoochee River.

Different reservoir concept plans failed on multiple occasions, most recently in 2016. The primary reason was that there was no need for the project. The state’s overly optimistic population projections—on which the Authority relied to justify the reservoir—did not pan out as officials initially expected. As a result, after spending millions of dollars on consultants and engineers to justify the project, the Authority dropped the idea for a new reservoir a few years ago.

Despite the revised, lower population projections, the Authority now seeks a permit to withdraw up to 11 million gallons per day directly from the Chattahoochee River. CRK does not support this permit request for many of the same reasons we did not support the County’s previous proposals for Bear Creek Reservoir.

First, the Authority does not have a fundamental water supply need. Two of the Authority’s cities—Fairburn and Union City—buy their water from the City of Atlanta, which is permitted to withdraw 180 million gallons of water per day from the Chattahoochee River. The City of Atlanta uses approximately 51 percent of that permitted capacity and has plenty for existing and future customers, including those in South Fulton County.

Second, population projections relied upon by decision-makers remain unrealistic. The Authority claims there will be 131,701 people living in their jurisdictions by 2065. However, this represents a 209 percent increase from the current estimated population of 41,608 people. This is an astronomical projection for three small cities when compared to Fulton County’s overall projected growth. Fulton County’s 2018 population was 1,050,114 people. Fulton County’s projected population in 2050 will be 1,631,265 people. This amounts to only a 55 percent increase county-wide.

Third, the three cities have significant room for improvement when it comes to managing water loss. There will be even less need for a new water supply if the cities make improvements to ensure the water they bring in is beneficially used and returned to the river, rather than lost due to aging pipes or inefficient practices. It is more prudent for the cities to invest resources in addressing system management and operations to reduce real water loss instead of spending money on developing an entirely new water supply source, new water treatment facility, miles of new raw and finished water supply mains, and the associated pumping costs.

CRK will continue to monitor this permit request, and advocate for robust conservation efforts as the more cost-effective and sustainable means of meeting our future water supply needs.

This story originally appeared in our Summer 2019 edition of RiverChat.