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November 07, 2012JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Judson H. Turner has followed up on Fulton County's decision to terminate its contract with the Cauley Creek Water Reclamation Facility with a stern letter promising that the closing of the facility will have consequences to the county.
In a letter dated Oct. 26, Turner wrote to the Fulton Board of Commissioners that the Cauley Creek decision poses a number of problems for EPD and statewide strategic water planning.
Turner wrote: "I hope you will be open to consider all the impacts, unintended or otherwise, that the proposed action will cause, and at a minimum reconsider the timetable …"
He said his concerns are with the timing of the decision and the way the state's established process to make that decision was ignored.
Turner said the state has come "a long way in terms of statewide water planning … both in water supply and water quality." And in this respect, Georgia is ahead of sister states in the Southeast.
"For any state regional water planning system to function, local authorities must be committed to participating in the regional coordination and planning process," Turner wrote. That means working with the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.
Turner went on to outline three related issues:
1. The state is concerned about unintended consequences of Cauley Creek's closing. While Fulton County may or may not want the 5 million gallons per day (mgd) capacity to return treated water to the Chattahoochee, it is no slam dunk that the county's application would be approved.
While the specifics of the transfer of capacity to the county's Johns Creek Environmental Campus technically presents no problem, the request would, in light of the county's lack of a conservation pricing plan.
The state objects to replacing Cauley Creek's reuse (gray) water for irrigation with potable water. Cauley charges $0.65 per thousand gallons while potable water is sold at $3.02 per thousand gallons. This flies in the face of the Metro Planning District's three-tiered water conservation pricing schedule.
"Moving away from the reuse of water and toward greater consumption of potable water is not a welcomed development from the state's perspective," Turner wrote.
Nor is the state pleased with promises to provide the potable water at the $0.65 rate. "Buying off" its customers with a special rate presents a pricing structure that is the opposite incentive of what the Metro Planning District and the state propose is an even greater problem for EPD.
2. It creates confusion about the effect the decision will have among Cauley Creek customers, in particular, the golf courses. They will no longer be guaranteed irrigation water when water restrictions are in place.
The county defends its right to terminate the contract, saying it is paying Cauley Creek $4.80 per thousand gallons to treat the water that Cauley turns around to sell at $0.65. The county is in effect subsidizing Cauley's customers to the tune of $6 million annually.
Commissioner Tom Lowe, who is part of the 5-2 majority that voted to terminate the Cauley Creek contract, said the county has every right to do so.
"I think [EPD Director Turner] should stick to his own business. Cauley Creek was always built as a temporary measure. With the new water treatment plant [JCEC], we will have enough capacity for the next 35 years," Lowe said.
"Cauley Creek is all outgo and no income from the county," he said. "We have the legal right to do this."
Lowe pointed out Cauley Creek serves just 28 customers with its gray water for irrigation. For that, it costs $6 million annually that the county can now do for itself.
"We will find some way to take care of [Cauley's customers] ultimately. But how much do we owe private golf courses? We are paying millions for something we don't need," Lowe said.
Lowe also said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been recognized by the courts as the operator of Lake Lanier, and several of the golf courses can exercise their withdrawal permits.
Turner does concede Fulton County has the right to end Cauley Creek's contract and mothball the facility. But the county's actions to "not play by the rules" – to ignore Metro Water Planning District procedures and act unilaterally – will mean a closer audit of the county's "good faith" compliance with all aspects of the Metro Plan.
"Using potable water for irrigation is a concern, and especially at a pricing schedule that is contrary to public policy," Turner said. "That's going in the wrong direction.
"You have a set of state requirements related to planning inside the Metro District, and that process hasn't been followed," Turner said. "But on permit modification or renewal [of water allocations], we are going to look at to see if they have been in compliance.
"We understand local issues come up, but if you are going to just go your own way, we are going to look closely at that," he said.
Turner reiterated the big problem EPD has with the county's decision is the way it was made with no input from its Metro Planning partners.
Managing Editor, Appen Newspapers Inc.