Georgia considers contingencies in water-sharing case
Georgia’s water contingency task force, part of the state’s efforts to address a court ruling that may bar the state’s access to the Chattahoochee River Basin, has released a three-part plan for Georgia’s future water use. Also, the governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida will meet again to try to resolve the states’ ongoing conflict over sharing the Chattahoochee that led to the court decision.
In July, the U.S. District Court ruling gave the states three years to reach an agreement and for Georgia to acquire Congressional approval for using the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-controlled Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River Basin for drinking water. If Georgia fails to acquire the Congressional approval, the state could only draw water from the lake as an “incidental benefit,” meaning only at levels that do not interfere with authorized uses of the lake and river, such as power generation and flood control, according to Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue spokesperson Bert Brantley. That would mean Georgia could only draw water from the Chattahoochee River system at the same rate that it did in the mid-1970s, when the population of the Atlanta metro area was substantially smaller, Brantley says. Atlanta’s economy could take a $26 billion hit every year if the court ruling takes effect, according to an analysis conducted for the water contingency task force.
Georgia’s diversion of water from the Chattahoochee, which increased in the 1990s with the construction of new reservoirs to meet Atlanta’s growing needs, reduces the amount that flows downstream to Alabama and Florida, according to a University of Mississippi Web site. Alabama and Florida have sued Georgia, saying that the decreased flow threatens their future industrial and population growth and depletes the flow into Florida’s Apalachicola Bay, threatening the state’s $70 million oyster industry.
Georgia’s task force, which was formed to determine the state’s options if the court ruling stands, has recommended a mix of actions known as the “3Cs:” conserve (aggressive conservation measures and reducing loss from leaks); capture (expanding existing reservoirs and building new ones); and control (restrictions on outdoor water use and requirements for plumbing upgrades). “These leaders from across Georgia looked at all possible solutions and let the facts drive their recommendations,” Perdue said in a statement.
The state could explore more contingency options if it had more time, said John Brock task force co-chair and Coca-Cola Enterprises chairman and CEO, in a statement. “While we cannot close the water gap by 2012, there are additional contingency options that can be implemented by 2015 and 2020. Emergency solutions are extremely costly, but having a few more years opens up a whole range of additional possibilities.”
The meeting of the three governors will be the first since the July court ruling. The meeting is scheduled to take place in Montgomery, Ala., Tuesday, Dec. 15.
Read more about the Georgia task force’s recommendations.