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Magnuson Appeal Roundup

March 14, 2011

I’ll be the first to admit I was surprised by the reporting on the status of Georgia’s appeal of the 2009 Magnuson decision.  Gov. Nathan Deal set Georgians up to expect the appeal to fail, but the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals might actually side with Georgia.  You can read about it here in the AJC, the Gainesville Times, or in this AP Wire story carried in Alabama markets.

In nutshell, the court may revise or overturn the order and require the Corps to properly evaluate how much municipal drinking water is available from Lake Lanier.  The Corps study could take two years or more to complete, but might also determine if Lake Lanier can meet metro-Atlanta’s regional water supplies until 2030.

What I gather from this new line of arguing: The metro-Atlanta growth industry basically buys itself another 15 years or so to bring new reservoirs online (and we should hope, take water efficiency and conservation more seriously).  It’s also worth noting that Deal may have publically predicted the appeal’s doomsday failure in order to help push his new reservoir spending budget, to facilitate the DNR’s interbasin transfer (IBT) rules, and to secure passage of a (now much improved) public-private reservoir bill.

I also have to address one of the oft cited and never substantiated claims (see above links) by the metro-ATL boosters and their lawyers: businesses are running to Georgia’s competitors and neighbors because Georgia’s future water supply is not solid.  I remain unconvinced that businesses are being swayed to neighboring states with the promise of future water supplies. Maybe they are, but they are perhaps being misguided.

All of our Sun Belt neighbors have their own water worries. North Carolina and South Carolina have tentatively resolved their own bi-state water war. The primary water users in those two states who are dependent on the Catawba River basin are well aware of the uncertain water future they face unless they make serious changes (i.e. conservation and efficiency). South Carolina – well, perhaps they lured First Quality from Augusta to Anderson because of a much hyped metro-ATL interbasin transfer (IBT) from Lakes Burton and/or Hartwell – but nobody has made that explicit claim. As for Tennessee – would you want to locate in the Tennessee Valley Authority managed basin downstream of Chattanooga if you thought metro-Atlanta might deploy an IBT of hundreds of millions of gallons in the future?  That leaves Georgia with their Alabama and Florida neighbors – both of which Georgia is mired in two water wars over the Appalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint  (ACF) and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) basins.

So, which Sun Belt neighbors can legitimately lure investors from Georgia with promises of stable future water supply?

If Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are legitimately discussing water efficiency and conservation as a part of resolving their water wars – more power to them – they should start talking about it publicly and make some political hay in the process. That would seem to put investors’ minds at ease as well by making it clear that Georgia takes water management seriously and not as a sign of competitive weakness.

-Chris Manganiello

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