Ending the Water Wars.

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.


  1. Doug Deal says:

    This is a good article about how a Columbia University study that concluded that the drought was not all that bad, historically speaking, but poor planning coupled with Army Corps of Engineering mismanagement led to a water shortage.


    Believing that you can survive on infrastructure designed for a fraction of the population it currently supports is completely irresponsible.

    But at least we have boat docks.

  2. aquaman says:

    Harold gives a good talk but it’s funny he’s helping solve the problem now when he was unable to do so during his tenure as director. Congress may well not act but what enforcement of the Magnuson ruling does anyone propose? Water to over 3 million people will NOT be cut off. This process is still being driven by special interest (who else cares) and will end up in the Supreme Court.

  3. Holly says:

    If I were the Governor, I’d target not only Georgia Congressional Members, but all Members of the T & I Committee. Particularly ones on the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee. Particularly ones with Georgians in their offices.


  4. Progressive Dem says:

    Judge Magnuson’s ruling is a gernade to get things moving. There is no possibility that a new water suppy can be found for Gwinnett County in three years. And while the region has made sizeable reductions in demand through conservation, conservation can’t replace as much water as the jeudge’s order has taken away. If the Judge’s order were to stay in place, a giant public health hazzard would result. As we get closer to the deadline, the absurdity of the ruling will come into focus. The order won’t hold.

    A political solution from the Governors of Alabama and Georgia is the only way to resolve the differences. This will be the first order of business for the next governor of Georgia. There’s too much bad blood between the current governors to expect a settlement in the short run.

    • AubieTurtle says:

      If the governors can’t come to an agreement, it will be up to Congress to change the law to allow Lake Lanier to be used as the water supply for Gwinnett and near by areas. You can bet that Congress will allow it since you can’t leave a million or so people without water but you can also bet that there will be tons of conservation strings attached like those used in Southern California. Mandatory ultra low flush toilets (aka turbo flush toilets), tiered water rates that will make watering the lawn more than once a week only for the rich, and most scary to the developers in Gwinnett, a total ban on septic tanks. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Gwinnett was forced to install a comprehensive sewer system that will cover all but the most sparsely populated parts of the county. Too bad they won’t be able to turn to the state for help paying for it since the precedent has been set with Atlanta’s sewer system of this being a local problem paid for by local funds.

      • Harry says:

        Sticking cheesy apartments and shopping strips in low-density residential areas may also not be possible anymore. Our Gwinnett planning commissioners and county commissioners may lose some of their best “contributors” among the developer community.

      • Progressive Dem says:

        The impact of the ruling will hit everywhere, not just in Gwinnett. Septic systems are considered “consumptive uses” because the water is not directly returned to watershed. New septic systems will become difficult to obtain in Forsyth, North Fulton, Fayette and Coweta. High efficiency toilets are already the law for new construction, and DeKalb requires them at the sale of exisiting homes. Most water utilities have already established tiered water rates, but the pricing may get steeper to be more effective in curbing outdoor water use, which is another consumptive use. Pricing is the most effective tool in reducing demand.

  5. NorthGAGOP says:

    The Federal court ruling says that the congress has to modify the bill for Lake Lanier, our delegation lead by Cong. Deal Real, says we are going to wait to do anything.

    Based on his lack of leadership while serving the 9th district, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of leadership on a critical issue to all of the citizens of Georgia.

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