Tussahaw Reservoir project provides ideal example for Georgia state permitting process

The Henry County Water & Sewerage Authority provided a case study last week at the annual conference of the Georgia Water & Pollution Control Association.

McDonough, GA, Aug. 28, 2003 -- The Henry County Water & Sewerage Authority (HCWSA) provided a case study last week at the annual conference of the Georgia Water & Pollution Control Association (GWPCA) in Savannah.

The authority was invited to serve as a featured presenter during a technical session covering "permitting and the law" for the benefit of trade association members in attendance.

The construction of the HCWSA's Tussahaw Reservoir has been one of the most publicized projects of its kind in the state of Georgia. During the seminar, the management team from the HCWSA shared the timeline, critical issues being addressed, and lessons learned from the now three-year process to obtain a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct the Tussahaw Reservoir.

Lindy Farmer, general manager of the HCWSA, explained the importance of teamwork for enhancing the chances for success from such a permit application.

"Most people are unaware of all of the details that go into building a reservoir, so forums like this are helpful in educating the public and our industry on what to expect," said Farmer, speaking before nearly 100 utility managers, policy makers, consultants and other professionals of the GWPCA. "More than anything, you have to form a team who can work well together. Such an undertaking is going to involve your finance people, your attorney, your engineers, your environmental consultants, the public, as well as many others," he explained.

Among the key issues affecting the outcome of the permit in the Tussahaw case was the authority's ability to document the need for the additional raw water resources and subsequent drinking water, said Farmer.

Growth projections from reliable sources helped to produce verification of the need for the Tussahaw Project from groups led by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). Those studies show that the demand for drinking water threatens to exceed supply as early as 2005, if the Tussahaw Reservoir and water production plant are not operational by then.

Pat Hembre, chief engineer for the HCWSA, and Dr. Rick Whiteside, owner of Wetland & Ecological Consultants, noted that the authority provided detailed analysis of 19 alternatives for obtaining additional drinking water for the region in the future. Only then did the authority settle on the Tussahaw Reservoir project, and related initiatives, as the best alternative for meeting the future drinking water demands of HCWSA customers.

"The number of alternatives to Tussahaw that we looked at certainly reflects the amount of planning that went into this permit application," said Hembre, following the presentation. "The plan to consider Tussahaw as a raw water source dates back to 1969, and more recently to 1987, when we first drafted the details of what has evolved into our watershed protection plan."

Finally, after verifying the need for additional drinking water in Henry County, and documenting the most efficient means for meeting that future demand, the authority was required to submit its wetlands mitigation plan for replacing and/or restoring natural resources that will be impacted by reservoir construction.

The authority's aggressive wetlands mitigation plan complements this reservoir construction project.

With just 252 acres of wetlands and 90,200 linear feet of streams impacted by the impounding of the reservoir, the authority in turn will restore or replace 1,715 acres of wetlands, with upland buffers, and 149,925 feet- or 28 miles -of stream banks, Dr. Whiteside said.

"Rarely are you allowed to replace wetlands at a 1 to 1 ratio on projects of this size," he explained. "We are provided with a formula by the Corps of Engineers for submitting wetlands mitigation, but our proposed acreage for restoration was off the charts, literally. I don't think even our fellow industry professionals at the conference could believe the kind of numbers we were talking about."

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