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A Murky Bind: “Georgia is facing reality”

February 7, 2011

That’s how the editorial board from the Anniston Star over in Alabama describes Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s current predicament when it comes to resolving the region’s water supply problems.

As the editors note, Deal now recognizes his “bind:” Georgia’s appeal of the Magnuson order is destined to fail, and Congress will not act on reauthorizing Lake Lanier for water supply until Alabama, Florida, and Georgia get their proverbial house in order when it comes to sharing the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River basin’s water.

One of Deal’s solutions, however, does not sit so well with the Alabamians: building more water supply reservoirs in Georgia – specifically in the Etowah-Coosa-Alabama River basin. This would include the Dawson Forest project. In other news stories over the past week, it’s very clear that it’s not just the newspaper who’s concerned: even Alabama’s new governor is extremely wary of proposals for new reservoirs in Georgia.

A headline in Thursday’s Gainesville Times put it bluntly. “Ala. Governor: Don’t build reservoirs,” it read. The AJC’s header was a bit more diplomatic, noting that Gov. Bentley of Alabama is “ready to negotiate.”

“But,” the AJC reports, “Bentley said he would consider any new reservoir development by Georgia a threat if it is not part of those negotiations.” Loud and clear, Governor.

“If Georgia keeps taking water illegally from the federal reservoirs, and takes more from new reservoirs, it will put downstream communities in an even worse position than we are in today,” Bentley told the AJC. This reflects a comprehensive view of river system management that may be missing from Georgia officials’ plans, from what we know of them.

In that regard, it’s alarming that Gov. Deal’s spokesman emphasizes a hunky-dory situation during non-drought conditions with additional reservoirs in place – ignoring the all-too-common low-flow conditions that are much of the reason for the ferocity of the water war in the first place. “Unless prayers for rain go unanswered and all states are parched, creating storage will allow us to fulfill our obligations on water flows at the state lines,” the AJC and Gainesville quote him as saying. Big “unless,” recent parched experience shows.

And if Alabamians are concerned, what about downstream interests within Georgia? Carlton Fletcher at the Albany Herald penned a zinger of a column – and yes, you have to appreciate the pun in the header – accusing Deal of out-and-out duplicity on the related questions of reservoirs and of interbasin transfers. The Savannah Morning News, too, has an editorial urging legislators to strengthen Georgia’s statutes on interbasin transfers, arguing convincingly that it’s not only the fair way to treat downstreamers but also makes economic sense for the entire state.

Getting back to the Anniston editors, they are also not remiss to point out that Georgia’s Water Stewardship Act of 2010 may be too little too late, and that the recent Georgia Department of Natural Resources interbasin transfer rule-making was too “weak and not necessarily binding.” The editors’ conclusion: “Negotiators from Alabama and Florida need to listen carefully to what Georgia proposes, but should be mindful of what that state is doing.”

With that refrain, we should point out the details. Gov. Deal has proposed dedicating $46 million – and a four-year total of $300 million – specifically to develop water supply reservoirs in Georgia.  Just for the sake of numbers, the proposed Glades Farm Reservoir will cost $300 million all by itself, and that’s before factoring in the cost overruns that seem always to come along with building reservoirs. That $46 million could buy the state’s taxpayers a host of other more effective water supply projects – and faster. More on that another day; check back with us soon.

-Chris Manganiello and Ben Emanuel

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. DrinkMoreWater permalink
    February 8, 2011 6:20 am

    So perhaps the Anniston Star and yourselves are advocating that Georgia enact water interbasin transfer and water permitting/withdrawal rules equivalent to Alabama’s?

  2. garivernetwork permalink*
    February 8, 2011 2:07 pm

    We are advocating for a tougher and more meaningful IBT policy in Georgia to protect downstream communities, economies and fish and wildlife. It’s not surprising that downstream Alabamians would agree with their neighbors who are downstreamers in Georgia.

    -BE

  3. rebelaire permalink
    February 8, 2011 3:54 pm

    We’re downstream on everything else North Georgia has to offer too. Funding, jobs, etc, etc, etc. Always has been, always will be.

  4. Frank permalink
    February 8, 2011 5:12 pm

    Don’t despair, rebelaire. Act! Atlanta is insatiable in it’s lust for more, more, more. There is a battle looming for water in this state. Now is the time to prepare for it. Let your local and state representatives know who they work for. Let them know that if they vote with the powerful Atlanta interests, they will have to answer to you. Talk to your friends and neighbors about it. Our actions will determine whether our children have rivers to fish in.

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