Wastewater begins to flow into Lanier

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

BUFORD -- With the click of a computer mouse, the valve opened and Gwinnett began pouring a liquid as valuable as gold into Lake Lanier.

The milestone a decade in the making -- releasing treated wastewater into the lake to help sustain it -- had very little fanfare Wednesday, just a round of applause in a small control room at the F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center.

At the lake, there wasn't even a bubble or a ripple to signal the flow, which began at a rate of 8 million gallons a day just after 1 p.m.

But the impact, officials say, could be dramatic.

"That saves the lake," Chairman Charles Bannister said, noting the stringent treatment levels negotiated with lakeshore homeowners on top of the influx of up to 40 million gallons in a body of water that a few years ago had a dwindling shoreline. "It's been a long time coming, but we are moving now. We'll fill up the lake."

The discharge is the first of its kind into Lanier, although Gwinnett has been flowing treated water into the river for decades.

After the initial permit was issued in 2000, lake advocates balked, hurtling the issue into the courts until a compromise was reached.

But on Wednesday, members of the Lake Lanier Association applauded as Bannister opened the valve.

"It's unusual when you achieve two goals in one action," said Vice President Wilton Rooks, a Forsyth County homeowner, referring to the association's mission to work toward a full and a clean lake. "We think this is a huge step in the right direction.

Gwinnett is to complimented for sticking with it and making it happen."

Officials are hoping the move will bolster the county's case to continue pulling drinking water from Lanier, which is Georgia's largest drinking water supplier. In court cases that have spanned several decades, a recent ruling puts into question using the lake for drinking water.

"I believe that putting water back into the lake helps us secure a long-term water supply for our residents," Bannister said. "We also help our friends downstream by returning our water to its source."

The event Wednesday marks the completion of a 9.5-mile pipeline that reaches from the F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center to 1.2 miles within the lake. Completed in several phases over three years, the pipeline cost $72 million, which was funded through bonds as part of the water and sewer fund, paid by ratepayers.