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Atlanta Transforms Old Quarry into 2.4 Billion Gallon Emergency Water Supply

The City of Atlanta

Atlanta, GA

In times of drought, the city of Atlanta looked to transform an old quarry into one of America’s largest water reservoirs. This new water conservation project will expand the city’s emergency water supply by 30x.

Topics Covered

Water Supply & Drought

Cost

Initial: 320 Million USD

Funding

General Fund/Existing Public Funds

Project Status

Operational since 2021

Gov Champion

Department of Watershed Management

Problem Addressed

Drought and water shortages led The City of Atlanta to explore how to meet the city’s future water needs. 

Unlike most large cities that were built around water sources, Atlanta began as a transportation hub whose unique geology significantly limited its water supply. Since its founding in 1837, the city has not had access to a major river or lake, forcing it to pull more than 70% of its water from the Chattahoochee River Basin. As the city’s population continued to grow, so did its water needs. The construction of the Burford Dam to divert the Chattahoochee River and form Lake Lanier in the 1950s was seen as a long-lasting solution to meet the water needs of the city’s growing population.  

While the dam and lake significantly aided the growth and development of Atlanta then, the reality is that the city’s small surface water supply relative to its size makes it disproportionately vulnerable to water shortages. Water use continues to increase as the city expands, but the sources of water remain the same. Lake Lanier is still the source of about 70% of the city’s water, even as usage has climbed from 80 million gallons per day in 150 to 510 gallons per day in 2015.

In the event of a water shortage, the city’s two raw water reservoirs only held enough water to serve the city for 3-5 days. A severe drought in 2009 illustrated the lack of resilience in the city’s water supply and highlighted the need for an alternative water source so that residents and businesses could continue to access clean, safe drinking water in the future. 

Solutions Used

The City of Atlanta repurposed an old rock quarry to serve as a backstop for additional water supply. 

Atlanta’s city officials knew that with the growth rate of the city’s population, building a major water reservoir within city limits was not a possibility. Instead, in 2006 the city purchased Bellwood rock quarry, in an industrial area a few miles west of metro Atlanta, to serve as a raw water storage facility. 

“The Atlanta Water Supply Program”, launched in 2015, involved building a $320-million tunnel system to connect the quarry reservoir with two water treatment facilities and the Chattahoochee River. 

Black & Veatch joined the program as the owner’s advisor due to its expertise in deep tunnel projects. The company led the quality control and inspection team during the tunneling and pump station construction, supplying resident engineering, structural guidance, tunneling, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing expertise. 

The Atlanta Water Supply Program was completed in the Winter of 2020, but the new reservoir and tunnel had already proven their value when a major water line failed earlier that year and the reservoir was used to avert a city-wide emergency. The new system was designed for a 100-year life and holds 2.5 billion gallons of raw water that adds resilience to Atlanta’s strained water supply. The reservoir can provide the city with 30 days worth of emergency drinking water, a massive increase compared to only 3-5 days before the project. 

“We can’t afford not to have safe, clean drinking water all the time. If we lose water for a day, it would be a devastating impact to our 1.2 million customers,” says Ade Abon, senior watershed director for The City of Atlanta. 

The innovative use of an abandoned quarry and embrace of smaller reservoirs have added additional resilience and capacity to Atlanta’s water supply, ensuring that the city’s population will have continued access to drinking water in the decades to come. 

Outcomes

1

Atlanta repurposed an abandoned quarry and built an underground tunnel to augment its strained water supply and support its growing population

2

The new reservoir expanded Atlanta’s emergency supply to up to 90 days; previously, the city had three to five days of emergency supply

3

The new system’s water storage helped Atlanta avoid a city-wide emergency when a major water line failed

4

The city is better prepared for water shortages caused by droughts with greater resilience built into its water supply

5

Atlanta’s work can be used as a model for other cities to repurpose abandoned quarries

Something Unique

With the quarry repurposed as a water reservoir, Atlanta is planning to build a 300- acre park and recreational area around the quarry to make it more accessible and usable for residents.

Other Recognition

Winner, ENR Water Project of the Year

April 2022

Winner, ENR Southwest Water Project of the Year

April 2022

Winner, Underground Construction Association - Project of the Year

April 2022

Government Project Team

  • Ade Abon, Senior Watershed Director, City of Atlanta

Last Updated

Aug 2nd, 2022
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