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Atlanta has plenty to offer. Water, a scarce resource in these parts, isn’t one of the selling points.
But don’t fear, Mayor Kasim Reed says. Atlanta has a place that could potentially hold a substantial amount of water.
"We also have, in a park that’s not far from here, an ability to build a reservoir that can hold a 30-day water supply for the city of Atlanta," Reed said during a recent radio interview with WABE-FM’s Denis O’Hayer.
The mayor was referring to the Bellwood Quarry, a 138-acre property in northwest Atlanta, near Marietta Boulevard and Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway. Many people, particularly zombie fans, may recognize the quarry as a backdrop for the hit AMC series "The Walking Dead."
Reed was on the radio to sell Atlanta residents on voting for a 1 percent sales tax to fund an ongoing multibillion-dollar effort to improve the city’s sewer system and produce cleaner drinking water. The mayor and O’Hayer talked big picture about the city’s and state’s water challenges, a discussion that prompted Reed to talk about the quarry. Plans for a reservoir are in the early stages, city official said.
For years, Georgia leaders have battled with their counterparts in Alabama and Florida over control of the limited water resources in the region. The "water war," it’s been called.
Maybe, we wondered, Atlantans won’t have any new wrinkles on their foreheads worrying about where their water will come from with the quarry’s development.
Atlanta officials say that’s a stretch because a reservoir won’t solve all the city’s water needs. Besides, they said, the reservoir would cost about $180 million to build, and there is no projected start date.
More importantly to our fact-checking operation, we wondered whether the mayor’s claim about the quarry’s potential water capacity is a stretch?
Atlanta bought the quarry for about $35 million in 2006, when Shirley Franklin was mayor. Franklin and city leaders, eager to provide more parkland and green space in Atlanta, wanted to convert the century-old quarry site into a park with a lake. The lake wouldn’t be used for recreational purposes because of the loose rock around the rim and its depth. The entire surface area of the park is 138 acres. The surface area of the reservoir is 40 acres and between 250 and 400 feet deep, according to a fact sheet the city put together in June 2010.
Here’s how the city says creating the reservoir would work:
"The reservoir will be filled with water withdrawn from the Chattahoochee River at the existing water supply intake and pump station facility. It will be designed to operate as an off-line storage reservoir -- where water may be held for an extended period of time before being pumped into the Hemphill or Chattahoochee water treatment plants."
Atlanta is considering plans to build a deep tunnel to carry water from the reservoir to the Hemphill treatment plant.
"We think [the reservoir plans are] a good idea," Sally Bethea, executive director of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, a nonprofit group that works to keep the region’s waterways safe from pollution.
Businesses and residents who use the Atlanta system currently consume 90 million to 95 million gallons of water a day, said Janet Ward, the communications director for the Atlanta Watershed Management Department. The usage can rise up to 100 million gallons a day in the summer, she said. The quarry has the potential to hold approximately 2.4 billion gallons of untreated water, Ward said.
PolitiFact Georgia divided the potential of water it can hold by 90 million gallons of water a day. The result came to nearly 27 days of capacity.
Ward explained to us why the mayor said the quarry could hold a 30-day water supply.
"I think [the 30-day estimate] started when we were in the depths of the drought and our daily usage was more like 85 million gallons a day," she said. "If the mayor said 30, that’s because that’s the figure we’ve been using all along. Since the drought, people’s usage has gone back up slightly."
Reed’s statement is very close. The 27-day calculation prompts us to provide some clarification to his statement. Our rating: Mostly True.
WABE-FM interview with Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Feb. 23, 2012
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Political Insider blog, Feb. 24, 2012
Email and telephone interviews with Janet Ward, communications director, Atlanta Watershed Management Department, March 14-16, 2012
Telephone interview with Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper executive director Sally Bethea, March 15, 2012
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