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Athens’ New Reservoir Will Have Enough Water to Last 100 Years

Credit: Miramax Films

The Athens-Clarke County Commission agreed Tuesday to purchase a rock quarry and turn it into a reservoir that is expected to supply enough water to survive a once-a-century drought.

The Rock Hill Quarry—located in East Athens near Ben Epps Airport—will hold 4–5 billion gallons of water when the reservoir is completed. That’s comparable in size to Bear Creek Reservoir in Jackson County, which is shared between Athens-Clarke, Oconee, Barrow and Jackson counties.

Ordinarily, Athens draws water from the North and Middle Oconee rivers, but during droughts, the rivers are too low. Bear Creek Reservoir was completed in 2002. But during the historic drought of 2007–2008, it became apparent that it was not enough. The counties squabbled about their share of the water, with Jackson County suing the other three to gain access to a larger portion. At the time, Athens had a mere six weeks’ water supply, and the county was considering an emergency plan to drain Lake Chapman at Sandy Creek Park.

Since then, thanks to conservation habits and tiered water pricing, Athens residents and industries have been using substantially less water on average. As a result of climate change, though, North Georgia is expected to get hotter and drier, so it’s likely that Athens will experience an even worse drought sometime in the next century. And ACC is growing at a 1–2% clip each year.

The quarry will cost ratepayers $23 million, with $8 million of that offset by a mining lease ACC will inherit. The lease expires in 2030. At that point, construction on the reservoir will begin, and it is expected to be completed by 2034.

ACC budgeted $20 million for a new reservoir in its 2015 water and sewer delivery plan.

The 190-acre property is located near Winterville Road and Spring Valley Road, along the Firefly Trail, and is suitable for a park as well, according to county officials. It is also located along the path of a planned pipeline that will carry reclaimed gray water from the North Oconee sewage plant to industries for reuse.

The new reservoir will not require a dam, or damage any wetlands or other environmentally sensitive areas, county officials said.