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Critics praise new Lake Lanier water discharge plan

LAWRENCEVILLE - The same people who sued the Environmental Protection Division five years ago over a plan to discharge water from Gwinnett County into Lake Lanier complimented a new version of the plan at a public hearing Thursday.

"We applaud them," said Val Perry, executive vice president of the Lake Lanier Association. "We think Gwinnett acted in outstanding good faith. This was admirable. They did a great job."

The Lake Lanier Association sued the EPD in 2000, demanding more stringent requirements for the proposed 40 million gallons of wastewater released into Lake Lanier from the F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center each day.

That battle went to the state Supreme Court, where the court ruled that the permit's standards should be higher because the state-of-the-art sewage treatment facility treats wastewater at much higher levels than required.

Frank Stephens, the director of Gwinnett County's Water Resources Division, said the final plan - which includes a release level more than 100 feet below the lake's surface - is a good agreement.

"We're proud of it," he said. "We're strong believers that we need a sustainable, healthy Lake Lanier."

The levels of phosphorus, which can be converted to algae when exposed to sunlight, were reduced from a maximum amount of 13 parts per million to .08 parts per million in the new plan. Additionally, the low release point and a measure allowing the water to cool underground before reaching the lake will in turn keep the treated water toward the bottom, away from sunlight, so less algae will be formed.

Perry, who lives in Forsyth County, called the agreement a victory. He said he hoped the EPD would use Gwinnett's specifications as a bar to set other discharge requests against.

"What we're asking is to make sure any new discharges on Lake Lanier are at least as clean ... as the Gwinnett permit," Perry said.

The permit's public comment period will continue until Sept. 28. After that, the EPD could issue a permit for the county to discharge water into Lake Lanier.

Stephens said it would be at least two years before that actually happens because a pipeline to carry treated water to the lake would need to be built. In the meantime, the county has a temporary permit to discharge an additional 9 million gallons of wastewater into the Chattahoochee River. This is on top of the 20 million gallons that were already being released into the river daily.

About 20 people attended the public hearing at the Gwinnett Justice and Administration Center on Thursday night. Three people spoke, all of them in favor of the revised plan.

After the meeting, Stephens said the agreement would make the plant somewhat more expensive to operate - and give it a smaller margin of error for phosphorus and other pollutant tests - but that it was the right thing to do.

"It's Gwinnett County's water supply so it's a public health concern, it's recreation," Stephens said. "It's vital to Gwinnett County as a community. We want to keep the lake in good health for many many many decades to come."