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Issue Brief: Reauthorizing Federal Reservoirs in Georgia

January 24, 2010

Congressman and gubernatorial hopeful Nathan Deal (R-Gainesville) has attempted to introduce a bill that would reauthorize all federal reservoirs in Georgia for water supply.  This is a tall order that would impact at least three Tennessee Valley Authority and ten U.S. Army Corps of Engineers artificial lakes around Georgia already authorized for flood control, power production, navigation, recreation, and fish & wildlife.  The reauthorization would not affect private reservoirs such as those owned and managed by the Georgia Power Company.  Deal’s reauthorization would affect two of the state’s major river basins – the Chattahoochee and the Savannah – and potentially spark water wars with South Carolina and Tennessee.  Deal’s bill is a direct response to Judge Paul Magnuson’s July 2009 ruling that metro Atlanta’s allocation of Lake Lanier’s water was illegal, and his order that allocations from the Corps’ reservoir be reduced to 1970s levels by 2012.  Deal is not alone in his state-wide reservoir reauthorization quest, but opposition in Georgia has already forced him to concede.

On more than one occasion in October 2009, Sen. Johnny Isakson and Gov. Sonny Perdue have stated that many federal reservoirs around the country, like Lake Lanier, are used for water supply even though they were not authorized for such.  According to American City and Country (in early October), Isakson’s office “identified 78 Corps-managed reservoirs in 27 states that are being used for water supply without specific authorization for that purpose.”  Days later, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Perdue mentioning “dozens” of reservoirs nationwide.  Then in November, Don McKee of the Marietta Daily Journal reported numbers scaled back by almost half to 40 reservoirs in 13 states.  Requests to Deal’s, Isakson’s, and Perdue’s offices by this constituent to clarify these numbers and the reservoirs’ geography produced generated thank-you-for-your-interest responses.

This brings us back to the middle Chattahoochee River valley’s successful backlash against Deal’s reauthorization plan.  According to the LaGrange News, “West Point Lake advocates support the move to authorize Lanier as a drinking water source” to benefit metro Atlanta and the Chattahoochee’s stakeholders.  And after their successful lobbying, Deal now agrees that West Point represents a “unique situation.”  They convinced Deal that his “one size fits all” attempt to reauthorize every federal reservoir will not work for their community, and he agreed to change the language of his proposed Congressional bill to exclude West Point Lake.  It’s likely inevitable that as Deal campaigns for governor across the state he will encounter many communities that also think their reservoirs are unique, not eligible for reauthorization, and ultimately, not available for metro Atlanta’s water supply.  In related news, Deal is taking credit for rekindling the tri-state water war talks, and he is promoting new Chattahoochee River basin reservoirs to solve Atlanta’s water problems.

It is important to remember that Congress authorized each federal reservoir like West Point to meet specific needs a long time ago, and to be fair, has tweaked those authorizations over time.  But reauthorizing every reservoir at the same time as Lake Lanier would have major economic and environmental repercussions for every river basin in the state.  Additionally, reservoir reauthorization would further complicate Georgia’s statewide water planning process, which is currently underway.  Congress should certainly reassess Georgia’s – and the nation’s – water supply, use, and management policies, but a blanket reauthorization of Georgia’s federal reservoirs would simply create more problems than it could ever solve.

For a related story, see: “Georgia’s Strategy…is a Hail Mary Pass.”

-Chris Manganiello

One Comment leave one →
  1. rukidding permalink
    January 24, 2010 7:40 pm

    Where has Deal been on this issue for the past 14 years?

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