Last night I attended a meeting of the 1071 Coalition, a group interested in improving the management of Lake Lanier. Many of these folks live and own businesses on Lanier so they have a vested interest is seeing Lanier managed differently than it has been. The 1071 Coalition is conducting a study to determine the economic impact of low lake levels. Public input is requested, especially from those who live near the lake or do business related to the lake. Go to their website for information.
The featured speaker last night Harold Reheis, the former Director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Reheis provided an overview, from his perspective, of Georgia’s response to Judge Magnuson’s ruling that the Army Corps of Engineers does not have the authority to use Lake Lanier to supply Atlanta’s water needs.
Governor Perdue has crafted a “Four Prong Approach” in response to the ruling. Prong 1 is to appeal the decision (which will be filed very soon), and 2 is to work with Georgia’s Congressional delegation to try to get Congressional approval for using Lanier’s water. The third prong is to get the three Governors back to the negotiating table and the fourth prong is to develop contingency plans in case the other three prongs are unsuccessful. Reheis is not optimistic that Congress will act mainly because there are a number of other lakes around the nation where the Corps is releasing water for various localities even though that was not the original intent of the lake. Many Congressmen may be unwilling to expose their own constituents to what Atlanta is now exposed to.
Reheis is one of the people involved in crafting the fourth prong of the plan. He and about eighty other experts are developing contingency plans to replace the 251 million gallons a day of water that could be lost should prongs 1-3 fall flat. Basically everything is on the table. From reservoirs to using the Savannah River and/or the Tennessee River to desalination and conservation, it’s all being considered. Reheis said the determining factor will be the cost per million gallons of each item they’re looking at. A plan of recommendations will be released before the end of the year so that the Legislature can deal with it come next January.
Reheis then took some questions. I asked him how long it normally takes to get a reservoir built from conception to use. He told us of a planned reservoir in northern Hall county that has only now been submitted for approval after three years of preparation. A modification to the proposal will add about a year and a half, assume a year for approval, three years or construction and another year and a half to full it and you’re looking at ten years from conception to the time it can be used. This reservoir is a little slower than normal but it’s safe to say we won’t have reservoirs in place in time to meet the court imposed deadline.
By the way, bad news for you folks who want to invade Tennessee and retake stolen land. Reheis thinks it’s a huge waste of time to pursue that avenue.
A second question asked Reheis if we finally have leadership in place to get this problem solved. Reheis said we’re not in this mess because of a lack of leadership on Georgia’s part but that perhaps we placed too much trust in the never ending negotiations between the three Governors. We were close to a resolution at one point when Alabama pulled out and he blamed most of this mess on politics. It’s popular, Reheis said, in Alabama and Florida to blame Georgia for their water woes rather than get the work done to solve the problem.
I agree with Reheis that Congress is unlikely to act. Their agendas are being driven by the Obama administration and it seems unlikely Georgia’s water problems will climb onto their radar screen in time. It also seems unlikely the three Governors will reach an agreement. They’re not even talking yet and they haven’t reached an agreement at any time during the last twenty years, so what makes us think they can in the next three? Not only that but Florida and Alabama are winning and have no incentive to cut any deals with us.
In my mind we have two legitimate options left to us: Getting the ruling overturned, and replacing Lanier’s water. The 11th Circuit could over turn Judge Magnuson’s ruling, but of course that will likely just kick the matter up to the Supreme Court and the process will drag on for years. The other option left to us is to implement the contingency plans developed by the Governor’s panel, which I think is the most promising long term solution to the crisis.
Legislators need to be prepared to deal with this issue early in the upcoming Session. We simply don’t have anymore time to waste.