Our ‘Money Pit’ Report on the High Cost and High Risk of Water Supply Reservoirs in the Southeast

As a sizzler of a summer descends on the Southeast and prolonged drought again grips much of the region, debate over the region’s future water supply is as hot a topic as ever. In many communities, the approach to seeking future water supply is a traditional one: dam a stream and build an artificial reservoir.

It’s an approach plagued with risks, though—risks that are becoming more and more apparent. Building a new water supply reservoir is far from a sure bet to secure water supply, and financially it’s a gamble for a community to undertake.

That’s why today American Rivers releases a new report, Money Pit: The High Cost and High Risk of Water Supply Reservoirs in the Southeast.

The report outlines key financial and resource risks inherent in the pursuit of new water supply from reservoirs. It shines a light on recent water supply reservoir projects that provide cautionary tales of communities burdened by expense and debt, and leaving taxpayers and ratepayers scrambling to escape a seemingly bottomless money pit.

Despite these warning signs, there are still a growing number of new reservoir proposals in the region. Collectively, Georgia reservoir proposals on the drawing board could cost at least $10 billion in taxpayer and ratepayer dollars.

Some recent real-life examples have shown that for a local government, financing expensive water supply expansion projects can be like buying more house than your family can afford. The high-price, high-risk water supply reservoir strategy can leave a community financially vulnerable, tying up assets and leaving taxpayers and ratepayers on the hook without a guarantee that the water will be there when they need it. After all, in an increasingly drought-stricken region, damming streams and rivers is less and less logical: if the water isn’t going to be there to flow into a storage reservoir, it is of limited use.

But it’s not all bad news: By turning to low-impact supplies rooted in water efficiency, a community can plan for a secure water supply future that doesn’t break the bank. This report shows the way for communities seeking resilient water supply strategies for the future that reduce risk. It contains recommendations for pursuing a prudent path of low-risk, low-impact, flexible water supply strategies.

This report is for anyone who seeks a financially sound, environmentally sustainable approach to their community’s water supply planning—a vital need in the many Southeastern communities weighing their options for the future.