Memo critical of proposed Lanier study
Ex-official with ties to reservoirs assails plan.
Proponents say raising lake level is one solution to area water problems.
A memo this week to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from a former state official with connections to several reservoir projects blasts a plan to raise the level of Lake Lanier two feet as complicated, costly and ill-advised. “Raising the level of Lake Lanier by two feet will be difficult and it will take years to achieve,” Joe Tanner, a longtime commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, wrote in the memo sent Wednesday to a corps official. “The difficulties of implementing this proposal have been greatly underestimated and the potential benefits have been greatly overstated.” Common sense suggests that it is cheaper and more productive “to expand on what already exists,” he said.
Corps spokesman Pat Robbins said the corps legally cannot accept state money to perform the study and an outside study would be very difficult to accomplish.
“In order for us to bless a report done by an outside organization it would have to be done by the same standards that we would do it,” he said. “It’s a very high bar.”
Supporters have touted increasing the storage at the state’s largest reservoir as one solution to metro Atlanta’s long-term water problems and lobbied hard during the legislative session this year for state money to study the plan. Such a study has the support of the Gwinnett County Commission and the Lake Lanier Association, which represents about 2,000 landowners at the lake. A number of environmental groups also support it as an alternative to building new reservoirs.
Neill Herring, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said Tanner is protecting his interest in the proposed Glades Farm Reservoir in Hall County, where his firm is the lead consultant for the county. “Apparently Joe Tanner believes a study that might lead to a reauthorization of Lanier would mean Glades would not be built and his fees will not be collected,” he said. Herring said a study of the Lanier plan could provide a solution “that’s not going to cost as much as some of Mr. Tanner’s schemes.”
Tanner said in an interview Friday that raising the level of the lake has no bearing on Glades or any of the half-dozen other reservoirs in which he has an interest. “The real question is, is it feasible to raise Lake Lanier by two feet and is that cost-effective and do the benefits equal the costs?” he said. Tanner said the answer on all counts is no and said he wrote the memo to correct the record. “Anybody who thinks it is going to be easy to raise the level of Lake Lanier is wrong,” he said.
Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Lake Lanier Association, said no one is suggesting that raising the lake is the only solution to Georgia’s water problems. “It is only one step that could contribute to Atlanta’s water future in times of severe drought,” she said in a statement. Cloud said conservation, incentives and new reservoirs are also on the table, but she said the cost of raising the lake level is minuscule compared with the cost of building new reservoirs.
Regardless, Tanner said the state has no money to do the study, despite the fact that supporters of the plan said they had gotten more than $2 million for it in next year’s budget. “There is no funding there,” he said. But, he added, “I think there is the opportunity in there to use some limited state funding to look at expanding reservoirs.” In his email, Tanner said Gov. Nathan Deal was opposed to using state money for the Lanier study. Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the budget does not contain a specific line item for the Lanier study, although $2.14 million is appropriated for projects including the expansion of water facilities.
Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, supports the study, but he said Friday that the issue of state funding for it is complicated. “There is not a line item in the budget, however the request was made to the Appropriations Committee and all parties involved believe the study should and ought to be done to evaluate the cost-effectiveness and benefits of raising the water level of Lake Lanier by two feet,” he said.