Silt a dirty problem for Rockdale water

Photo by Nate McCullough

Photo by Nate McCullough

CONYERS -- Silt may be slowly stealing water out of Randy Poynter Lake as officials take the first steps to determine what to do about it and how much it will cost.

Silt accumulation has already covered up the granite rock shoals around the covered bridge on Haralson Mill Road where Big Haynes Creek feeds the 820-acre lake.

Roger Hatch with the Upper Ocmulgee Resource, Conservation and Development Committee was concerned enough to organize a field trip for a group of state and federal soil conservationists to Poynter Lake two weeks ago. He said silt is a problem that all reservoirs are facing without much public awareness.

The purpose of the field trip was to bring awareness of the silt problem here and begin the process of finding grant money to fund research in reducing silt in reservoirs.

"Part of the problem is with EPD (Georgia Environmental Protection Division) is that you can't create any diversions in the stream, but there should be a dam of some kind that could collect silt above the lake that could be cleaned out very easily rather than getting in the lake," he said. "Then, it becomes a pretty expensive job to dredge out the silt that has accumulated in the lake."

Hatch said the Poynter Lake reservoir managers estimate about 10 percent of the reservoir's volume has already been taken up with silt and work needs to begin on how to remove and manage silt deposits.

"In 40 or 50 years, if nothing is done, it will go back to being a little stream again," Hatch added.

Poynter Lake, located on the north end of the county, serves 27,000 Rockdale Water Resources customers as the sole source of potable water. Elaine Nash, chairwoman of the Rockdale County Water and Sewerage Authority, said RWR has contacted a dredger to look at the situation and a report with cost estimates is expected in early 2011.

Nash said nothing was budgeted for silt removal in RWR's 2011 budget due to dropping revenue from foreclosures. She said there has been no silt removal done since the reservoir was completed in 1998.

"This kind of regular maintenance is normally covered by depreciation which hasn't been accumulated -- $6,700,000 per year -- for at least the past two years or only partially covered in the years before that, except for 2006," Nash said in an e-mail response to questions. "Sand can be sold but not if there is not a need for concrete."

Nash fears that neglect of the water system's infrastructure will catch up to the county and may end with the federal courts forcing the county to make improvements in much the same way as is being done with DeKalb County's sewer system.

"Consent decrees from EPA and the Justice Department have a 'boiler plate' statement that forces the governing authority to fund the consent decree whether they want to or not," she added.

Hatch said silt usually comes from development upstream, but the economic downturn has put a stop to almost all new construction in the area.

Much of the silt in Poynter Lake is a result of the flooding experienced in September 2009, Hatch said. He pointed to the major project the city of Conyers went through earlier this year to remove tons of silt left along the Yellow River at the Georgia International Horse Park.