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Mining People Magazine

n drought years, city officials have stood

at the edge of a municipal nightmare:

More than once, Atlanta’s primary water

source has almost run dry. Lake Lanier,

a man-made lake created in the 1950s with

a dam on the Chattahoochee River, just

doesn’t hold enough water to meet 21st-

century demand.

With 1.2 million water customers in the city

and a metro area population approaching

6 million, the city’s limited water capacity is

simply not enough to keep up with a pace

of growth that makes Atlanta one of the

fastest-growing cities in the US. The solution

is a $400 million public infrastructure project

that makes use of an important asset: a

former granite quarry west of downtown.

“As of today, we only have three days of

raw water supply should something happen

to our source, so adding considerable

resiliency to our water supply infrastructure

is the value of the project to the 1.2 million

customers that we serve on a daily basis

and the businesses that we serve, including

the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport,”

says Ade Abon, the city’s senior watershed

director. Once the project is complete, he

says, “If we consume water at the standard

rate that we do today, we will have adequate

supply for 30 days.”

The price tag of the project is nothing

compared to the potential cost of running

out of water, he says. Businesses in the

city would incur that level of loss in just two

days if the lake runs dry. Not only is water

reliability important for the world’s busiest

airport, but it’s also an important factor for

new businesses and residents looking to

locate in Atlanta.

The former quarry will provide 2.4 billion

gallons of water storage, Abon says. The

infrastructure that will link the site with the

Chattahoochee and the city’s two water

plants includes a 5-mile tunnel with multiple

shafts – a major undertaking that is now,

three years after it started, finally nearing


He says the tunnel-boring project came with

all the challenges of any deep hard-rock

tunnel. At its deepest, it runs 450 feet below

the surface. When the system is completed,

Pits with Potential

by Debra McCown Thomas


Photo: The city of Atlanta

is nearing completion of

a 5-mile tunnel that will

connect its new reservoir,

on the site of the former

Bellwood Quarry, to existing

water infrastructure.

The project will provide

additional water capacity

that’s needed to supply the

growing city.

it will enable operators to control water

flow in multiple directions: from the river

to the reservoir to fill it and, when needed,

from both locations to the water plants

to be treated and delivered to city water


The project is a classic win-win: It’s a cost-

effective solution to the city’s water needs

and makes productive use of the century-old

quarry. Meanwhile, the large city park being

developed around the reservoir as part of

the project promises not just recreational

access but also an economic development

engine. Linked to Atlanta’s urban greenway

system and developed with input from a host

of community stakeholders, it’s expected to

result in a significant economic boost.

“It gives a place for people to recreate, both

[in terms of] passive recreation and then to

activate the space for regional attractions

like concerts,” says John Dargle, the city’s

commissioner of parks and recreation. “It

adds value to the community, and hopefully

within the businesses and neighborhoods

around it there will be this ripple effect of

development and people wanting to move

to this area and improve this community as

a whole.”

The project is just one example of what’s

happening around North America when

mining is complete: companies are working

together with municipalities, developers,

and conservation groups to develop their

former pits and quarries into post-mining

uses that provide a long-term benefit to their


“It’s a huge city project – but so critical to the

economic development and quality of life for

the city,” says Jimmy Fleming, vice president

of permitting and external relations for

Vulcan Materials, the company that sold the

former Bellwood Quarry to the city of Atlanta

for its water infrastructure project.

As an interesting side note, the site has also

been used in the filming of several popular

entertainment series, including the



movies, AMC’s

The Walking Dead

and the Netflix series

Stranger Things


This isn’t the first major water infrastructure

project Vulcan has been involved with,