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Private Interests in Public Issues

May 12, 2011

A story last weekend in the Journal-Constitution shed some very interesting light on a present policy discussion in Georgia: to build more reservoirs, or to expand existing ones?

The topic, specifically, has to do with the proposal to raise the level of Lake Lanier by two feet to increase Lanier’s storage capacity, potentially solving some of the ACF basin’s management difficulties not just in North Georgia but throughout the basin. The proposal would seem to provide a piece of the solution for Metro Atlanta’s water crisis – and would seem to do so more quickly and cost-effectively than building new reservoirs would.

So, what does it tell us when a proponent of building new lakes lashes out against a plan to raise the pool level at Lanier? It’s not hard to see that there could be more reasons than one why former DNR Commissioner Joe Tanner wouldn’t want to see the Lanier proposal move forward. A commonsense solution to the region’s water supply problems might make other, more expensive solutions – like reservoir projects that Tanner is working on – look less attractive by comparison (see: the proposed Glades Farm Reservoir). And remember, any private firm shepherding an infrastructure plan stands to make money off of it, regardless of whether the plan serves the public interest or not (and, also, regardless of whether it’s ever even built).

From the article:

“Raising the level of Lake Lanier by two feet will be difficult and it will take years to achieve,” Joe Tanner, a longtime commissioner of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, wrote in the memo sent Wednesday to a Corps official. “The difficulties of implementing this proposal have been greatly underestimated and the potential benefits have been greatly overstated.”

One has to wonder how the projects shepherded by Tanner might fare if they were to have the same filters applied to them: Difficult? Take years to achieve? Overstatement of benefits? Cost is a key question, too, as new reservoirs are far more expensive than expansions and retrofits of existing reservoirs.

The article is an enlightening window into the role that private, for-profit interests play around public resources and public costs. Read it closely, here.

-Ben Emanuel

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