Reservoir maintenance, especially dredging, is costly


Citizens Water of Indianapolis recently applied to IDEM for authorization (a Section 401 Water Quality Certification) to dredge a large area of Morse reservoir over the next 20 years in order to regain a portion of the original reservoir capacity.   Morse turned 60 years old in 2016 and sedimentation from its tributary stream inlets and adjacent/upstream land disturbances (mostly urban development and agricultural operations) have significantly diminished water-storing capacity.  Citizens proposes to dredge 93 acres plus 4 acres of emergent wetlands.   Over the 20-year project period, it will remove upwards of 360,000 cubic yards of sediment.  Morse has a total surface area of approximately 1500 acres.

I asked Citizens about the cost of the dredging.   It reported:  For Morse, it budgeted $62,000 in 2016, $400,000 for 2017, and $650,000 for 2018.   No estimates available yet for subsequent years’ budgeted costs.   

For Geist reservoir, Citizens spent $504,000 in 2016 and has budgeted $400,000 for 2017.

Citizens Water should be commended for reversing this deferred maintenance and addressing the cumulative problem of capacity loss.  Citizens Water’s predecessor Veolia Water (a private operator), which operated the system under nominal city supervision by a Waterworks Board and staff for about 8 years during the Peterson administration, conducted no capacity dredging at all.   It does not appear that the Indianapolis Water Company/IWC Resources, Inc. which operated the utility throughout much of the 1900s, dredged much if at all.   Update:  Here is Citizens Water’s response to my inquiry– “IWC did dredge 121 acres of the reservoir in the mid-1990s to restore 788,505 gallons of capacity to Geist Reservoir. We do not believe Morse was ever dredged by IWC or Veolia.

Maintenance dredging to preserve capacity should be done periodically/selectively.  The summer drought and heat of 2012 caused precipitous and unsustainable drawdowns of the reservoirs (ridiculously, mostly for suburban lawn irrigation).  In addition, despite the fact that the reservoirs were built as water supply reservoirs, Citizens is bedeviled by the complaints of wealthy and vocal reservoir property and boat owners when water levels fall to the point of impeding boating.   Of course, these recreational reservoir users pay nothing to support the dredging.

In the future, public policy review of any proposed new reservoirs should include close consideration of the full costs of long-term maintenance.  Reservoirs once constructed, immediately begin filling with sediment.  This is exacerbated in agricultural areas where tilling hastens the rate of sedimentation.

As Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. said: “One of the fundamental flaws of human nature is that everybody wants to build, but nobody wants to do maintenance.”






Dams at center of the Devils’ world, and Happy New Year

Another year has passed and without any new information about what the Anderson CED might have in mind in the way of a Dam Plan 2.0.  The public has been advised, via a Herald Bulletin update report, only that other alternatives are been studied.  Likely the dam promoters are working behind the scenes to grease the skids for more public study-money to keep their consultants employed in the task of rationalizing and glamorizing a bad idea.

Meanwhile, the Heart of the River Coalition has incorporated (in late 2015) as an Indiana not-for-profit, organized for educational purposes.  Its regular On Nature columns are published in the Herald Bulletin, and its board of directors continues to be engaged in conservation issues.

As a Christmas gift, I received a recently published book titled Canoes– A Natural History in North America. It’s a beautiful book, rich in history and photography.  In his Foreword, John McPhee supplies pointed observations about dams–.

“In the view of conservationists, there is something special about dams, something – as conservation problems go – that is disproportionately and metaphorically sinister.  The outermost circle of the Devils’ world seems to be a moat filled mainly with DDT.  Next to it is a moat of burning gasoline.  Within that is a ring of pinheads each covered with a million people – and so on past phalanxed bulldozers and bicuspid chain saws into the absolute epicenter of Hell on earth, where stands a dam. 

The implications of the dam exceed its true level in the scale of environmental catastrophes.  Conservationists who can hold themselves in reasonable check before new oil spills and fresh megalopolises mysteriously go insane at even the thought of a dam. The conservation movement is a mystical and religious force, and possibly the reaction to dams is so violent because rivers are the ultimate metaphors of existence, and dams destroy rivers.  Humiliating nature, a dam is evil— placed and solid.”

Scenes from A Life in Canoes, the Foreword by John McPhee to Canoes— A Natural History in North America by Mark Neuzil and Norman Sims



THB’s On Nature column on successful direct action protest at Standing Rock

On Nature column: Pipeline decision shows nonviolent protest can be successful

After more than seven months of protest with thousands of water protectors camping near the banks of the Canon Ball and Missouri Rivers on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline has come to a halt.

On Dec. 4, the Army Corps of Engineers denied a permit to drill under Lake Oahe on the Missouri River to Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the $3.8 billion 1,172-mile pipeline. It was slated to move up to 570,000 barrels of sweet crude oil per day from the Bakken formation in North Dakota to Illinois.

The peaceful unarmed water protectors attempting to preserve water sources they claim will be contaminated by an inevitable pipeline leak, have endured months of violence and aggression from the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, North Dakota State Police, the National Guard and out of state police forces (including officers from Indiana). Protesters were subjected to pepper spray, attack dogs, rubber bullets, percussion grenades, sound canons, and they were doused by water canons in sub-freezing temperatures.

The confrontations resulted in more than 500 arrests (including several journalists) and accounts of various types of injuries, including a case of cardiac arrest, blindness from exposure to pepper spray, and the maiming of a non-Native woman who was hit with a percussion grenade and has undergone several surgeries after severely injuring her arm.

Several weeks ago, North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple demanded all protesters vacate the area by Dec. 5 or face forced removal. He said heavy fines would be levied for anyone attempting to transport supplies to the resistance. The governor cited approaching winter storms and protesters’ safety as the impetus for his demands.

On Dec. 4, more than 2,000 military veterans arrived at the reservation to stand in solidarity with the water protectors and to serve as a human shield against the ongoing assault on the Native and non-Native people encamped in the area.

As the risk of a confrontation between active military/police forces and inactive or retired unarmed veterans grew, the Obama administration and the Army Corps halted the construction of the DAPL one day before Dalrymple’s deadline.

The action of the water protectors is a prime example of the power of direct action nonviolent protest. Yet, the future of the DAPL and the Standing Rock Sioux is uncertain. In response to the Army Corps’ refusal to permit construction under the Missouri River, ETP stated it fully intends to complete the pipleline, regardless of the action taken by the Obama administration. President-elect Donald Trump, who until recently was invested in ETP, is in full support of the pipeline.

What is certain is the renaissance of the environmental movement through direct action protest, and there is more to come.

Eliot Reed, an Anderson native, is the owner of Park Place Arts, a custom frame shop and art gallery in Anderson. He is a founding director of Heart of the River Coalition.

AJC report: MIllions in tax dollars wasted on risky reservoirs

Millions in tax dollars wasted on risky reservoirs

By Chris Joyner – The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Posted: 6:00 a.m. Thursday, December 08, 2016

If you like horror stories, I recommend you cozy up with a forensic audit released last week in Newton County.

The document, prepared by an independent auditor, found the county “recklessly wasted” more than $25 million in taxpayer money on the failed Bear Creek Reservoir project. The auditor laid the blame for the debacle mostly at the feet of Tommy Craig, the county’s longtime attorney who advised county officials to listen to their high-priced reservoir consultant — Tommy Craig — and sink millions into a project that crept along for years before crashing into a regulatory wall.

In spite of Craig’s denials, the Bear Creek disaster should serve as a warning to local officials considering whether to spend millions of dollars and a decade or more of work on a reservoir project. These projects are guaranteed to do one thing: Make consultants rich. Everything else is a bit of a gamble.

Jenny Hoffner of the conservation group American Rivers said the audit is bitter confirmation of its 2012 report on reservoir development in the Southeast, aptly titled “Money Pit.” That report warned that reservoir construction threatened to put local governments deep in debt, raising water rates and hamstringing investment in other essential services.

“Newton County taxpayers were put on the hook for $25 million,” she said. “They were sold a bill of goods. It was not going to generate water, but it did generate fees for consultants.”

Like similar projects around the metro area, Bear Creek was built on excessively rosy projections on how fast Newton County was supposed to grow. Population forecasts based on data from the state predicted Newton County to quadruple in size by 2050, growing to more than 400,000 souls.

Craig and other water consultants made a lot of money in the last 15 years on such projections. They told local elected officials that if they didn’t start spending the millions it takes to build a new reservoir on land, engineering studies and attorneys fees, they would be unprepared for the growth that definitely, no doubt about it, was coming their way.

While explosive population growth was the story every local politician told, environmentalists and some local tax watchdogs cast a suspicious eye on the projects they suspected were geared toward “amenity” lakes for fishing, boating and expensive housing developments.

Last year, the state released post-recession growth projections that are much more realistic. Newton County, for example, would grow to less than 200,000 by mid-century. In addition, projections released about the same time by the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District estimated conservation efforts would deliver a 25 percent drop in water use by metro Atlanta residents by 2050.

With lower growth and consumption projections, federal regulators with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who issue the permits for dams that makes reservoirs possible, took a dim view of Bear Creek and other similar projects. Rather than sink many more millions into the project, Newton County swallowed hard and shelved their planned reservoir.

It could be revived one day, but right now its a big, fat debit on the county ledger, including a $21 million loan from the state that Craig told the Newton County press indicated the project was a slam dunk. Ratepayers will be paying down that debt for 40 years.

“The state will not offer you a loan unless they have assurances that you are going to cross the finish line,” Newton County Attorney Tommy Craig told The Covington News in August 2012.

Others have also shelved reservoir plans

While the audit focuses on Newton County’s financial woes, proposed reservoirs are expensive millstones hanging around the necks of other county politicians.

Hall County officials withdrew their application for a federal permit earlier this year for the long-sought and controversial Glades Reservoir. County officials say they haven’t abandoned the project, but instead are taking a breather from paying consultants and are reevaluating the need for the project.

Hall County has invested $16 million on the project but they appear no further along than Newton in making their dream lake a reality.

Likewise, the small cities of Union City, Fairburn and Palmetto have pressed pause on their reservoir project (also named Bear Creek) for the same reasons.

Craig was a paid consultant for Glades and the other Bear Creek project. Like Newton, Hall County and the three south Fulton County cities have cut ties with him.

Not all reservoir projects end with disaster. Richland Creek in Paulding County is up and running, in part because the state has a direct investment in that project, which state officials see as providing relief for Lake Allatoona.

Cheaper options less sexy

Others are a mixed bag, like Hard Labor Creek Reservoir, jointly owned by Walton and Oconee counties.

That reservoir is built and is slowly filling up, but slower than expected growth has local officials in both counties are taking a wait-and-see approach to funding a water treatment plant and transmission lines needed to provide drinking water for the counties. As a result, Hard Labor is mostly an $84 million fishing hole.

Walton and Oconee financed a portion of that cost with $32 million in state loans. The counties were expected to begin paying that debt this coming summer but asked for an additional two years (interest free) to start paying it back.

State taxpayers have skin in this game too. In 2011, Gov. Nathan Deal pushed for $300 million in state bond debt to fund reservoir projects. Along with Hard Labor, Newton County received $21 million in loans and South Fulton’s proposed reservoir has received $10.5 million in loans from the state.

Reservoir opponents have long urged local politicians to take the cheaper, but less sexy, route and invest in their aging water infrastructure. Recapturing water from leaking pipes is way less expensive and can provide additional water for growth. Others have suggested “smart” water grids that would save millions of gallons of water by more expertly delivering water and reduce waste.

“We could be getting that water through efficiencies,” said Hoffner, who describes re-capturing wasted water as a “hidden reservoir.”

That’s not the reservoir consultants want, however. And politicians don’t like to spend money on capital projects they can’t see.

A page-turner like the Newton County audit could change some minds.

As AJC Watchdog, I’ll be writing about public officials, good governance and the way your tax dollars are spent. Help me out.What needs exposing in your community? Contact me at

The road ahead

Infrastructure design and construction companies are no doubt encouraged after the recent election of Donald Trump who has trumpeted the need for more infrastructure spending as a way to stimulate economic growth.  The Madison County Corporation for Economic Development is likely also excited and hoping that the Trump-Pence team would be its ticket to a pot of Federal gold for dam construction.  Perhaps so, considering that in 2014 then-Governor Pence authorized $650,000 in discretionary funds for a wasteful phase 2 feasibility study which was largely a money-grab by the engineering firm which conducted the “study”   Despite the CED’s misleading claim that the resulting study identified “no fatal flaws”, the dam plan was deemed unacceptable with the vote-downs by two of the municipalities and by Delaware County which did not agree that a sufficient case had been made, especially regarding the impacts on their property and residents.  Will a resuscitated CED plan be able to overcome the objections and limitations of the rebuffed reservoir?  Time will tell.  Will the CED go to the public teat again?  Of course it will. 

Will the Trump administration, often quoted as seeking to “drain then swamp” of special interests, be able to see through the heavy pro-dam propaganda and lobbying, if indeed a revised reservoir plan is concocted?  We’ll see.

a rivers and canoeing Thanksgiving

Today (at waters’ edge/by the rendezvous fire or hearth) we give thanks for the gift of canoes and water, the essence of life.

And for our beautiful streams and their forested greenbelts which host our treasured paddling expeditions.

And for our early antecedents, the First Peoples of North America for the legacy of their splendid canoe—

an incarnation of grace, a tool supremely suited to its purpose and place, a design of indigenous genius’.   (Paul Gruchow).

We’re grateful for being able to quietly connect with our natural heritage which is so closely linked, through the millennia, to our sense of well-being.  It’s especially welcome in this trying age of mass consumerism, the anti-democratic corporate state, and the “increasingly platitudinous present” (Thomas McGuane, 1993).   “The way of a canoe is the way of the wilderness and of a freedom almost forgotten.  It is an antidote to insecurity, the open door to waterways of ages past and a way of life with profound and abiding satisfaction.” (Sigurd Olsen, The Singing Wilderness)

We’re grateful for the spiritual values provided by our river sojourns.  “Rivers have what man most respects and longs for in his own life and thought– a capacity for renewal and replenishment, continual energy, creativity, cleansing.”  (John M. Kauffman, American Rivers, July, 1977)

And for the friendly camaraderie afforded by our paddling friends— like-minded folks who appreciate natural heritage and good cheer.

And for today’s grassroots advocacy groups who battle against the “Perpetual Power and Growth Machine” to defend our streams which would be voiceless without them.

For the future, we pray for more public vigilance, and for honest and enlightened public officials who refuse to cater to the pervasive commercial interests which degrade our streams and their riparian greenbelts just to maximize their short-term profits and corporate brand.  We pray also for the individual courage to “step forward” (Lakota) when needed to vigorously defend our waters and watersheds against the greed of callous developers and relentless commercial enterprise. Lastly, we pray for those not yet educated in the values and responsibilities of conservation– as their enlightenment will be key to preserving Nature and our treasured paddling experiences.


Looking back and ahead for Indiana greenspace and surface water quality

This being the bicentennial year of our statehood, and also the target year of a 1996 statewide 2016 visioning conference (for greenspace and surface water quality), I wanted to briefly reflect on where we are and how we’ve fared.

The conference was held in July, 1996 at McCormick’s Creek State Park and was organized and sponsored by the Indiana Environmental Institute.  It was attended by a mix of invited representatives from State regulatory agencies, environmental advocacy organizations, and industry folks.  The main idea was to “move ahead on Indiana environmental issues in a 20 year framework”.  This was boiled down to a compilation of main principles for action in 6 topical areas—Indiana environmental ethic, double-green philosophy, making tough choices, environmental priority and planning, commitment to consensus and partnership, and sound methods for environmental decisions. 

As noted by one of the conference organizers, it has been “a mixed bag” of results over these past 20 years.  There would be successes, but many disappointments.  Perhaps the most telling sign is that we used to have an annual Governor’s conference on the environment, but that valuable program was dropped around the year 2000.

One of the notable observations, in speaking with the principal conference organizer, is that the greatest energy for positive change in  the 1996 conference came not so much from the environmental advocates attending, but rather from inspired corporate people.  He noted that this impetus is no longer felt nearly as much due to the many mergers and acquisitions and the departure of many of these committed people over time.  They have not been replaced with people of the same awareness and vision.  What we seem to have now are primarily corporate functionaries who are not particularly vested in Indiana.

Picking from the list, one of the most prominent, frequently mentioned results from the compiled results was for riparian protection and enhancement and “water greenbelts everywhere”.  This remains an elusive goal as development inexorably whittles away at our river environments and floodplains.  Others were “more natural areas” and “landscape—not lawnscape”.  Indeed!