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The Politics of Water

July 19, 2010

Your Water Wire scribes have been out in the field too much this summer to keep up religiously with the headlines, but never fear: we’re still here! Then again, if you needed us to tell you that water’s been a big political issue in Georgia this summer, then you must’ve been out on the river and off this old internet a bit yourself. There’s really no questioning now that water has reached a place among the major issues in the race for governor and in the state’s political landscape at large.

With the primary election now upon us, it’s worth a quick look back at the rising profile of the water issue over the past month or so in Georgia politics. And in retrospect, the 2010 legislative session — with the Georgia Water Stewardship Act passed and legislation to regulate interbasin transfers stymied — set the stage in many ways for the campaign season we’re seeing.

Water as an issue got kicked into high gear in mid-June, when candidates Nathan Deal and Eric Johnson told the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce at a candidate forum of their support for interbasin transfers (IBTs) as part of the solution to Georgia’s water woes. That kicked off a flurry of coverage of the issue, as candidates in both parties staked or adjusted their positions. Into that mix came the Georgia Water Coalition’s candidate forum on the banks of the Savannah River in the Augusta area June 24th, with some candidates dropping out at the last minute as the water issue heated up.

See Augusta Chronicle columnist Sylvia Cooper’s report on that forum here if you missed it (scroll down), among many other articles. From downstream along the Savannah River that week there was Savannah Morning News cartoonist Mark Streeter’s rather direct assessment of the IBT storyline, too. (Meanwhile, as of last weekend according to the Augusta Chronicle, none of the frontrunning candidates say they’d support IBTs from the Savannah basin into Metro Atlanta.)

This is just a small sampling of what’s been a very popular news item in recent weeks. Bookending the pre-primary water news cycle was last week’s one-year anniversary (don’t get too sentimental, now) of the Magnuson ruling in the tri-state water war on use of Lake Lanier. What “one year in” means, of course, is that just two years are now left to go in figuring out the future of Metro Atlanta’s water supply. Georgia’s riverkeepers teamed up to mark the occasion and present their case for a sustainable water future, whoever the next governor might be.

No matter what, this week’s primary election results will hold importance for the direction of water policy in the state, and it’s now pretty safe to say that water will continue to be an issue as we head toward the general election in the fall.

-Ben Emanuel

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