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Officials work on protecting Lanier water source

LAWRENCEVILLE — Just a few weeks after making a case in court, county officials are pleading with Congress to ensure Lake Lanier remains a water supply for more than 800,000 local residents.

Commissioners on Tuesday approved two resolutions with messages to legislators, the first seeking a clarification on the use of the lake for public water supply and recreation and the other to raise the full pool elevation.

The county government has had authorization from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to withdraw and store water since 1973, but in a 2009 ruling, a judge said water supply in not an authorized use. The ruling gives leaders until next year to sort out the issue or face the loss of metro Atlanta’s largest drinking water supplier, although state and county lawyers recently argued in an appeal of the ruling.

“There is no reasonable alternative water supply available to Gwinnett County, and the cost per gallon of usable water gained from raising the elevation is one-tenth the cost of building a reservoir,” District 4 Commissioner John Heard said. “The most cost-effective and time-sensitive solution to this regional issue is to use the resources we already have in place.”

Commissioners are also hoping the full level can be set at 1,073 feet above sea level, a two-foot increase that could boost the available water supply by more than 25 billion gallons. The change, officials say, could provide a greater storage buffer for times of drought and minimize the impacts of low flows in the Chattahoochee and Apalachicola Rivers, which would benefit both Alabama and Florida, the state’s battling Georgia in the so-called water wars.