Calse Study
Georgia: Upper Apalachicola-
Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin
Water Resource Strategies and Information Needs in Response to Extreme Weather/Climate Events
Water Trends
The Chattahoochee River, its tributaries, and
Lake Lanier provide water to most of the
Atlanta and Columbus metro populations. The
river is the most heavily used water resource in
Georgia. The northernmost reservoir in the ACF
Basin, Lake Lanier supports hydropower, flood
management, navigation, fish and wildlife,
recreation, water supplies, and water quality.
Operated by the Army Corps of Engineers,
it stores 65% of the basin's water, fed by the
Chattahoochee River.
In the last 50 years (1960-2009), all major
Georgia river basins, including the ACF, expe-
rienced intensified droughts: average rainfall
declined between 9% and 1 6%, soil moisture
between 3% and 6%, and watershed runoff
between 1 6% and 27%; evapotranspiration
increased between 1 % and 3%. This trend
is expected to continue. (Georgia Water Re-
sources Institute, 201 1). Projections of reduced
rainfall and population growth, indicate that
the ACF basin is likely to be vulnerable to
water deficits by 2060.
In addition, the region experienced two 500-
year floods between 2007 and 2012 as a result
of record rainfall, demonstrating the potential
for more frequent and extreme rainfall events
in an increasingly urbanized setting.
Governing Structures
Protective legislation includes the federal Clean
Water Act and state plans, such as the Water
Stewardship Act of 2012, the State Drought
Management Plan, the Flint River Drought
Protection Act, and the 2004 Comprehensive
State-Wide Water Management Planning
Act. The latter calls for the state to prepare
a comprehensive water plan. There are 1 1
regional water-planning councils. For the most
part, water and wastewater utilities are under
the jurisdiction of cities and counties.
The Story in Brief
Communities in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin (ACF) in Georgia, including Gwinnett County
and the dty of Atlanta, faced four consecutive extreme weather events: drought of 2007-08, floods of Sep-
tember and winter 2009, and drought of 2011-12. These events cost taxpayers millions of dollars in damaged
infrastructure, homes, and businesses and threatened water supply for ecological, agricultural, energy, and urban
water users. Water utilities were faced with ensuring reliable service during and after these events.
Drought of 2007-2008 and 2012
Northern Georgia saw record-low precipitation in 2007. By late spring 2008, Lake Lanier, the state's major
water supply, was at 50% of its storage capacity. The drought, combined with record-high temperatures,
caused an estimated $1.3 billion in economic losses and threatened local water utilities' ability to meet
demand for four million people. Similar drought conditions unfolded in 201 1 -201 2, during which numerous
Georgia counties were declared disaster zones.
"There is nothing simple, nothing one sub-basin
can do to solve the problem. The more we talk,
the more we study, the more we find out how
interrelated and complicated everything is."
Charles Stripling, Chair, ACF Stakeholders
Reduced rain affected recharge of the surface-water-
dependent reservoir. It reduced flows, dried tributaries,
and caused ecological damage in a landscape already
affected by urbanization, impervious cover, and reduced
natural flows. Downstream, agricultural production
was harmed, exacerbating tension over perceived
levels of urban water use. Landscapers and nurseries,
among major suburban economic sectors, were hurt by
the outdoor water ban imposed by local governments. 	
Simultaneously, hydropower energy production, which is
dependent on Buford Dam releases, conflicted with the need to preserve water storage for municipal supplies.
In short, decisions by independent sectors had cascading effects.
Water utilities in Gwinnett, Cobb, and DeKalb counties were faced with two sets of challenges: Ensuring adequate supply
to customers and complying with environmental regulations. Unlike with flood events, infrastructure damage was not a
primary concern. Rather, utilities had revenue loss associated with their response actions. For example, utility revenues
dropped when water restrictions were imposed, resulting in hiring freezes and cut contracts. Meanwhile, drinking water
treatment costs rose due to increased turbidity (i.e., suspended solids when there is too little fresh inflow) from water sources.
To complicate matters, the Army Corps of Engineers granted the Georgia Environmental Protection Department (EPD)
request to reduce water releases from Buford Dam to 650 cubic feet per second for three months to preserve water
supply for the coming summer, below Atlanta's 750 cfs discharge permit standard. Environmental groups expressed
alarm that this would harm downstream and Gulf ecosystems.
Utility and Community Response
Gwinnett County adopted a tiered billing structure in which water prices rose with use, reducing consumption by
20%. Priority responses focused on leak detection and repair. To deal with reduced revenue, the county renegotiated
electrical rates, insourced capital project management, and closed older facilities. Neighboring Cobb County took the
initiative to impose an outdoor water ban (an action the state later also implemented).
Recognizing the need to improve natural recharge of local streams, utilities promoted green infrastructure and
conservation; metro Atlanta used 14% less water in 201 1 than a decade earlier. Local environmental groups lobbied
for increased water quality monitoring in the river; a second monitoring station was installed.
Several partnerships formed to address critical water resource issues. A notable example is ACF Stakeholders, formed
in response to the drought in 2008 and composed of 70 members from Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, including
agricultural users, community members, environmental groups, utilities, and several government agencies. In 201 1 it
approved a five-year plan aimed at reaching consensus on protecting the ecology and businesses that rely on the basin.
A series of workshops focusing on extreme events and water resources, co-sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA), US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), Water
Research Foundation (WaterRF), Concurrent Technologies Corporation (CTC), and NOBLIS.

Floods of September 2009 and Winter 2009-2010
In September 2009, intense and prolonged precipitation in north Georgia caused flooding over several days. Disaster
areas were declared in 69 of the 159 counties, with the worst flooding in the Atlanta suburbs. Meanwhile, the Chatta-
hoochee River reached the 500-year flood level. Lake Lanier rose by more than 18 feet, coming close to overtopping
at Buford Dam upstream of Gwinnett County. Weather stayed wet through the winter of 2009-201 0, with heavy rain
causing more flooding from over-saturation, requiring carefully controlled dam releases.
In Gwinnett, 11 inches of rain fell in 1 8 hours, 28 storm culverts under roads collapsed, two wastewater pumping stations
were shut down, water and wastewater treatment plants were flooded, and sewers and floodways were inundated. The
costs just for stormwater infrastructure evaluation and repairs v/ere $7.5 million.
Neighboring Cobb County lost tertiary treatment at its R.L. Sutton wastewater treatment plant, had excessive damage
to lift stations and underground infrastructure, and faced collapsed structures and fallen trees.
In Atlanta, the RM. Clayton Water Reclamation Center had severe flooding and damage to primary dariflers, biological
nutrient removal basins, electrical gear, and the blower building. Power outages disrupted treatment processes. Despite exten-
sive recovery efforts, damage remained as of mid-2012. Total wastewater treatment response costs totaled $55 million.
Collaborating with other organizations
and governing bodies responsible
for water management helps foster
integrated solutions.
Communicating and collaborating
with stakeholders, including the media
and elected officials, is critical for
educating the public and creating
long-term solutions.
Engaging with existing regional plan-
ning structures, such as water planning
councils and state initiatives, is chal-
lenging but could help promote long-
term planning for multiple objectives.
Planning must integrate science, conser-
vation, infrastructure, and management.
Utility and Community Response
Flooding presents sudden and urgent challenges, as well as long-term recovery efforts that impose
large capital costs from damaged infrastructure. Utility managers must immediately restore critical
potable water operations and wastewater treatment services to protect public health. Unreliable
electric power, damage to roads and bridges, and lack of landfill capacity to take debris impeded
utility efforts to recover and, in the long term, to remediate damage.
Gwinnett County officials report they were better prepared for flooding as a result of three
major initiatives that began in the 1 990s: the FEMA Floodplain Map Modernization Program, the
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services Watershed Dam Rehabilitation Program, and a
new stormwater utility started in 2006 to provide
funding for county stormwater operations and
capital improvements. When the 2009 flood
came, updated maps helped identify at-risk
bridges and culverts and confirmed 1 0 of 14
dams were in compliance with standards due to
a stepped-rate structure, which provided funding
for infrastructure upgrades.
Consecutive extreme events hit north Georgia hard. (Top) Normal
water levels at Lake Lanier are 1.8M acre feet. (Middle) By late
2008, drought put the reservoir at 50% capacity; the area
suffered $326 million in recreational use and property value losses,
plus tax and income losses. (Bottom) Flooding in 2009 at Gwinnett
County's wastewater utility caused $7.5 million in repair work.
In Atlanta, the wastewater utility was prepared
with a robust and tested emergency response
plan. Priority areas were defined so operations
could be conducted manually and alternative
processes could be used. New emergency purchase
authorizations were triggered to provide services
for portable pumps and generators, equipment and
building deaning and drying, debris removal, chemi-
cal delivery, and full-site restoration. New worst-case
scenario planning is helping plan for future "perfect
storm" evente.
	"What if" planning for worst-case
scenarios can help identify vulnerabil-
ities for advance preparedness.
	Familiarity with how the Federal Emer-
gency Management Agency (FEMA)
operates helps with restoration efforts.
Useful Tools and Resources
Looking Forward
A broad array of concerned citizens, stakeholders, and government officials are coming to understand that managing
water resources for multiple objectives in a context of changing climate requires foresight, communication, understand-
ing, collaboration, and flexibility. Actions underway to build support and inform decisions include monthly conference
calls with NOAA to help regional planners understand unfolding events and use of USGS tools, such as StreaMail, that
provide real-time alerts. An ACF Stakeholders group enables constructive dialogue. Atlanta is promoting green infra-
structure and adopting water conservation practices. The landscaping industry is re-organizing around water-efficient
landscaping. The Lake Lanier Association is educating school children and the public about this threatened resource.
	Georgia Water/Wastewater Agen-
cies Response Network (GA WARN)
	NOAA National Integrated Drought
Information System (NIDIS)
	US Geological Survey (USGS)
WaterAlert and StreaMail
Information Needs
Intense dialogue is underway about ways (some controversial) to ensure adequate water supply against a backdrop of signif-
icant population growth and changing precipitation and watershed characteristics - debating ideas such as new or expanded
reservoirs, inter-basin transfers, aquifer recharge systems, restoring natural hydrology, and expanding water conservation.
While the utilities themselves can only do what is under their control, they are working to leverage their approach
toward integrated water resource management and adaptive preparedness to ensure reliable service.
To learn more about how the water sector is responding to extremes, visit:
Forecasts for short-term intense storms
and longer-term droughts, especially
at a local level
Targeted vulnerability assessments
Modeling for south Georgia that
includes Florida
Water demand and use estimates
Updated floodplain maps
Updated engineering design manuals
1.201 3.version 2