Bear Creek Capacity Is Suspect
Can the Bear Creek Reservoir really produce 58 million gallons of water per day?
Jackson County officials appear increasingly convinced that estimates of the regional reservoir’s capacity are wrong. That concern is driving the county’s push to develop its own reservoir to meet future needs.
But, while everyone agrees that Jackson County needs more water sources, but concern over spending $300,000 in a weak economy may keep Jackson County from tapping into $40 million in state grant funds.
The Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority will discuss with the county commissioners a proposed engineering “scope of work” for selecting a reservoir site in the hope of getting the county to pick up most or all of the estimated $294,400 cost.
Prime Engineering’s Rob MacPherson presented the scope of work and a timeline by which the authority could meet an Aug. 29 deadline for applying for the state funds.
The board of commissioners and the authority recently engaged Prime to do the water resources study, which ultimately resulted in the selection of three potential sites for a Jackson County reservoir. The next step is to select one of the three options, none of which have been identified.
“Our task is to get the commissioners on board,” commented authority member Alex Bryan, who predicted that the process would require “lots of talk, lots of meeting and a lot of buy-in” that would keep the authority from meeting the deadline.
The state made the money available in response to the drought, offering to pick up from 18 to 25 percent of the costs of water authorities or cities trying to improve their water sources.
There is growing concern that the Bear Creek Reservoir will not be able to provide the amount of water originally estimated. The lake was completed in 2002 and was supposed to be able to produce 51 million gallons per day (mgd). That figure was later revised to 58 mgd.
Jackson County hired a consultant to analyze the reservoir’s capacity. The Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority - of which Jackson is a member - has asked its engineering firm, which came up with the original estimates, to do the same.
“There may be a divergence (of opinions). That’s all I’ll say,” said the authority’s manager, Eric Klerk.
When the reservoir was built, it was supposed to provide sufficient water (13.5 mgd) to Jackson County to meet the county’s needs until 2025. Local officials now believe that date should be moved to as early as 2015.
Chairman Hunter Bicknell was also skeptical that Jackson County could get a grant application completed by the deadline.
“We can’t do anything without them buying into this,” he said of the commissioners. “It will be a real challenge to have something that will meet the Aug. 29 deadline.”
MacPherson pointed out that regardless of whether it gets a state grant, the steps in the scope of services will be necessary to site and build a reservoir and the money will have to be spent. He didn’t make much headway.
“I can’t speak for the BOC, but I think it’s going to be a hard sell,” said Bryan, who nonetheless agreed that the authority should meet with the commissioners “to see if this is where they want to go.”
That meeting will take place Thursday at 5:00. The two groups had already scheduled a closed meeting to discuss pending litigation. The proposal will be added to the agenda.
Authority member Andy Goodman appeared to feel some urgency.
“This may be the most important thing to come up in our county’s history,” he said. “The Board of Commissioners knows the situation ... we don’t need talk, talk, talk, we need action, action, action.”