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ARC tapping citizens for water solutions

By Diane Wagner

Urban development in Henry and Clayton counties, and the accompanying activities, has resulted in stretches of impaired streams where the levels of bacteria or sediment are too high.

On Tuesday, the Atlanta Regional Commission will host an informational meeting to discuss problems at specific sites and to collect ideas from the public on how to reduce the pollution.

"Additional sediment in the streams directly impacts the cost to treat water, so this is a tax issue as well as an environmental issue," said Steve Haubner, water resources engineer for the ARC.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the Henry County Administration Building, 140 Henry Parkway in McDonough.

Presentations will cover areas in both counties, according to ARC spokeswoman Grace Trimble. The focus area is the Upper Ocmulgee watershed, which includes most of Henry County and a small portion of northern Clayton County.

"Everything we do within the watershed affects that water quality," Haubner said in noting that public involvement is key. "Someone may say ?I don't live on that stream,' but that stream begins in their front yard, in their company's parking lot. So everyone will have a role in the management plan that will be discussed at the meeting."

The Henry County Water Authority's proposed Tussahaw Reservoir, straddling the Henry-Butts county line, has been stalled several times over water-quality issues.

After the most recent two-month delay, tree removal is again under way and Water Authority attorney Buddy Welch said a contract is expected to be signed this week for construction of the dam at the 1,477-acre site.

Work on the project was temporarily halted in March, after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended the operations permit in response to a suit filed by the Georgia River Network and the Altamaha Riverkeeper.

The suit claims the Corps erred in considering the environmental impact of Henry County's dam alone, instead of in conjunction with the other existing and pending dams in the Upper Ocmulgee watershed.

Although the Corps reinstated the permit last week after a second review, the suit is still pending in U.S. District Court in Atlanta.

Lindy Farmer, general manager of the Water Authority, said all permits are in place, along with outside confirmation that the water is needed and the environmental protections are sound.

"But our time is running out and our margin of error is shrinking to the point where we have none," he said. "From now on, continual court challenges of the validity of the permit are doing nothing more than hurting the people of Henry County."

Officials say the demand for drinking water in the nation's third fastest-growing county could exceed the production capacity by 2005 if the reservoir is not operational.

The reservoir, which will take about 30 months to build and fill, includes a treatment facility with an initial capacity of 13 million gallons of water a day. The design allows for a future expansion of up to 26 million gallons a day.