I seldom sit in on trials or hearings, but a couple of weeks ago I watched the attorney for the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority attempt to get Judge Joe Booth to throw out Jackson County’s suit against the authority.
Here’s the issue. All four member counties’ water contracts and plans are based on a calculation that the Bear Creek Reservoir can provide 58 million gallons of water per day (mgd) for 180 days during a drought. That calculation, done by the authority’s engineering firm and stamped “approved” by the EPD is the basis for deciding how much water each owner gets.
Jackson County has data indicating that number is wrong. Badly wrong, more in the neighborhood of 24 mgd.
The agreement creating the authority calls for the yield to be recalculated after major droughts. Jackson County wants a recalculation by a third party — not the original company, not Jackson County’s consultant.
Jackson officials want to know how big the bowl is so they can plan accordingly.
The other three parties in the case — Athens-Clarke, Barrow and Oconee counties — don’t want another calculation.
Why? Here’s the only possible answer; they fear Jackson County may be right, and the economic consequences of finding out they’ve got only 41 percent of the water they thought they bought are devastating.
That’s the only reason for the authority to take the absurd position that Jackson County wants all members to have less water.
All Jackson County wants is reliable data. Can it count on 14.25 mgd for 180 days (25 percent of 58 mgd) in the next drought? The results from the current drought suggest it can’t.
If Jackson’s numbers are accurate, Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties used a lot of Jackson County’s water during the last drought without paying for it. Strangely, Jackson County doesn’t appreciate that.
If Jackson’s numbers are accurate, all of the counties’ allocations will be trimmed, and some will have to cut back their withdrawals, find alternate sources or pay Jackson County for using its water. They’ll also have to change plans and contracts based on 58 mgd.
Those counties fear the truth if it differs from the status quo.
I think Judge Joe Booth will let the suit progress and ultimately the authority will be forced to redo the calculations because knowing the true capacity of the reservoir is too important.
Jackson has Mike Bowers in its corner. Bowers loves a court fight, he’s got good data on his side, and the other counties have yet to produce a good reason why the recalculation should not be done other than they don’t want it done.
Mark Beardsley is editor of The Commerce News. He lives in Commerce.