Thursday, April 18th 2019

Why Not Smith Lake

Smith Lake was one of the options considered by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. The Corp of Engineers eliminated the lake as an option as more costly and because of lack of local control.

Some of the reasons Smith Lake was eliminated as an option include:

  • Two treatment plants operating would double the cost of water treatment. It would require two staffs (class 4 operators on site 24/7). Plus, plants operate more effectively the more water they produce, resulting in a smaller cost per 1,000 gallons.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is the permitting entity for the lake.
  • Alabama Power, Southern Company (APCO) manages the lake.
  • Water from Smith Lake is allocated, first of all, for downstream navigation and secondly for power generation. Use of water from this lake for water supply can only be allowed if the first two needs are met.
  • The hydroelectric power generated by Smith Lake is used by Alabama Power Company for peak demand periods. Any loss of peak demand capacity must be replace by electricity generated by the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, or oil.
  • Smith Dam releases to the Warrior River and passes through Holt and Bankhead generation dams.
  • Alabama Power Company charges a fee for lost water generation through each dam (3 times).
  • Cost varies and is determined quarterly based on the cost of producing lost electricity from some other source.
  • A storage capacity fee is charged based on the permit amount, not the water used. For example, if the permit amount is for up to 12 mgd(million gallons of water per day), the fee will be based on that amount and not the actual withdrawal amount.
  • Applicants must have a drought mitigation plan (where APCO reduces withdrawals or show alternative sources in droughts according to letter received from Alabama Power November 2009).
  • Higher cost to construct and maintain.

In the long run, the Smith Lake option has the potential to cost more money, be too reliant on other entities, and will have water restrictions during drought periods.

Two Treatment Plants

The Smith Lake option calls for two treatment plants for the Cullman region. While having a treatment center located in southern Cullman County would minimize the time that water is in the pipes, the cons far outweigh the pros of this plan.

There are much larger systems that operate with one treatment plant. For example, the water treatment plant in Decatur, Alabama can operate up to 68 MGD (million gallons of water per day) to serve the Decatur/Morgan County area.  Water usage would have to increase to more than 5 MGD before a second plant is justified. Redundant treatment means redundant staffing, operating expenses, and management.  Supply, not treatment, was the shortage in the 2007 droughts. A new Smith Lake Treatment plant would not be a backup system for all of Cullman County due to its location, distribution issues, and treatment capacity.

Other Infrastructure Problems

If the water pulled from Smith Lake was treated at the Cullman Water Treatment Plant rather than constructing a new one, the cost of building the necessary infrastructure would be higher than the Duck River option.