City Politics

Westside Park

The future of drought prevention in Atlanta

By Linda Liu

The Resevoir at Atlanta’s new Westside Park // Photo by Shawn Taylor
The Resevoir at Atlanta’s new Westside Park // Photo by Shawn Taylor

Opened to the public just over a year ago after 15 years of planning, Westside Reservoir Park in northwest Atlanta became the largest green space and city park in the city. The 280-acre park is located between Atlanta’s Rockdale and Grove Park neighborhoods and was completed in 2021 for a total cost of $321 million. Formerly a granite quarry known as the Bellwood Quarry, the location of Westside Reservoir Park was a popular location for locally filmed movies and TV shows, including The Walking Dead and Stranger Things. Not only does Westside Park provide typical park amenities such as biking and hiking trails, pavilions, and playgrounds, it is also home to a reservoir that provides a solution for avoiding shortages in the case of a drought. This park’s 400-foot deep reservoir — the former quarry’s pit — stores 2.4 billion gallons of Atlanta’s emergency drinking water supply.

Under former mayor Shirley Franklin, the City of Atlanta purchased the land for $40 million after Atlanta officials’ fear that the city would have only three days of reserve drinking water in the case of a drought or disaster. One year later, in winter 2007, Georgia experienced the worst drought in decades that impacted all surrounding states in the Southeast, including Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina.

This drought especially affected northern Georgia and drained Lake Lanier, Atlanta and surrounding cities’ main water source. The extremely high temperature followed by the fast-developing drought and increasing concerns about limited water supply garnered the attention of the public and the media.

Some parts of central Georgia had been experiencing extreme drought, the second most severe category of drought, continuously from May 2011 to January 2013. Although this drought affected a smaller part of the state with less effect on water supplies compared to the drought of 2007, it is the worst drought that happened in Georgia within the past decade. Dr. Jairo Garcia, former Director of Climate Policies and Renewables with the City of Atlanta and current Professor at Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning, said that the Atlanta Regional Commission has since implemented new conservation measures to reduce future droughts. Such measures include a toilet rebate program that replaces eligible inefficient toilets for free and leveled pricing that charges higher rates when more water is used. Garcia explains, “if you have an old toilet, you can replace it for free, because it’s in the best interest of the city to reduce waste and to be conscious about the use of water in Georgia.”

As for what regular Atlantans can do, Garcia encourages everyone to keep in mind that water is not an unlimited resource. In order for Georgia to not re-enter a drought like those we experienced in 2006 and 2007, he said, “everybody has a responsibility to be mindful of the water we use and waste on a daily basis. We see the droughts that have happened in the west of the country, and we have to do what we can on a personal level to prevent that from happening to us in Georgia.”

Now, the water the Westside Reservoir holds is able to serve the city for 30 days in case of emergency and is expected to supply water for the next 100 years, a major step-up from the three-day prediction of available drinking water in case of an emergency in 2006.

Although all of Westside Park’s amenities are open to the public from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, it is still in the process of expansion into other neighborhoods of Atlanta. In the next phase of expansion, the park will connect to the Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail northern extension. The Proctor Creek Greenway is also incorporated into the park, making it easier for pedestrians and bikers to access different neighborhoods of Atlanta and the Bankhead MARTA station.

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