But paperwork, the bureaucracy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the long-running tri-state water wars litigation, could stop the reservoir from opening its taps even as a hot, and what could be dry, summer looms ahead. The meter, meanwhile, keeps running for the City of Canton and the Cobb County -- Marietta Water Authority, who own the reservoir and would dearly like to see a return on the investment.
Not even the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates the building and monitors water released from the reservoir, could readily answer the question this week whether the reservoir can legally open for business. The reason for the confusion is Hickory Log Creek is managed by two branches of the Corps: The Savannah Division, which oversees permits to build it, and the Mobile District, which has a say in how Hickory Log Creek releases are tracked.
The Mobile District is in the middle of the tri-state water wars litigation between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. When an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter asked the corps whether the reservoir is open, a day and a half later U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District public affairs specialist Billy Birdwell responded that "the permit did not authorize water to be withdrawn from Hickory Log Creek Reservoir."
When the reporter called back, Birdwell said the question was a water allocation issue and told the reporter to call the Mobile District. A spokesperson at the Mobile District could not answer the question and said the office would have to check with the Savannah District.
The cost and the continuing delays have hit Canton and its water customers particularly hard. The City, which owns a 25 percent stake in the reservoir, pays about $1.7 million a year in operating and financing costs and has been so strapped it's tried to sell its stake to Cobb County, while keeping rights to some of the water.
Those talks have gone nowhere as Canton has raised water rates 30%, in part to pay for the reservoir. Originally projected to cost less than $20 million a decade ago on the promise it would solve all Canton's future water needs, Hickory Log Creek has become a cautionary tale on the pitfalls of reservoir building.
Now, not knowing whether the reservoir is open for business just adds to the frustration. "When it comes to the reservoir, nothing is ever simple," said reservoir manager David Hatabian.
Cobb County -- Marietta Water Authority general manager Glenn Page said his understanding is his office has until May 31 to get "all the I's dotted and t's crossed" on final documents. After that, once the Corps determines how the water is accounted for after it's released from Hickory Log Creek, then it will open the reservoir.
When water is released from Hickory Log Creek it goes into the Etowah River which then flows past Canton, where it takes a sip, and then to Lake Allatoona. Cobb County -Marietta Water Authority withdraws its share of the Hickory Log Creek release from Lake Allatoona. Glenn said a schedule June 6 hearing in the water wars litigation could further delay the opening -- but that's not clear.
Canton mayor Gene Hobgood said the city doesn't need the water now. It's in reserve for a drought. But, after all these years and all those millions he'd like to see the reservoir taps open, at least officially. "It's a tough one to figure out, and we can't get a straight answer if it's open or not," said Hobgood.