County OKs emergency water plan

LAWRENCEVILLE - Even if Lake Lanier dips below Gwinnett's intake pipes this summer, residents will have water to drink, officials ensured Tuesday.

Commissioners agreed to a drought contingency plan, where County Administrator Jock Connell could declare an emergency and impose emergency water restrictions.

With a historic drought leading to measurements now nearly 20 feet below Lanier's full level, officials are making plans in case the levels dip below the pipes that bring water to county plants. The two intake pipes are about 25 feet below the current levels.

"We're not anticipating (an emergency), but it gives us the opportunity to declare one," Acting Water Resources Director Lynn Smarr said. "It's Gwinnett County being proactive."

In an emergency, a county contractor would float barges with pumping equipment to get water to the drinking water plants. Smarr said that would cost about $4 million with an additional cost of $80,000 a month to power the pumps to provide water to the county's 750,000 residents.

"This is a good message from the Board of Commissioners that they are preparing for their citizens," Smarr said. "We're going to monitor the lake this summer. ... We're all hoping the (U.S. Army) Corps (of Engineers) manages the lake properly."

Chairman Charles Bannister said he wanted to adopt the drought contingency plan after board members adopted measures late last year aimed at dropping water usage by 10 percent.

"These water wars have been going on for 18 or 19 years, and I don't see any sign of resolve, and we still need to provide water for the area," Bannister said. "This year, we've had adequate rain. Hopefully we never have to do that (emergency plan) because it is expensive."

Connell said he would likely announce today whether the county would continue with outdoor restrictions, since fines and other measures approved last year will expire next month. The county has committed to allow swimming pools to open this summer, but decisions on other measures will be determined today.

"There have always been - and always will be - dry seasons and wet seasons. County services must be ready to handle both ends of the spectrum," Connell said. "The county hopes the (corps) will, through responsible management of the system, ensure that all human and environmental needs are met both above and below Buford Dam."