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‘Water Unlimited’ turned out to be a trickle

POSTED: February 2, 2008 5:02 a.m.

The Daily Times June 30, 1957, published an ambitious special edition marking the beginning of the operation of Buford Dam, which created Lake Lanier. It was called, ironically, it seems now, "Water Unlimited." The first electricity generated by the dam had come just 10 days earlier.

The special newspaper was a gargantuan effort for a small staff, but it covered in depth the impact of Buford Dam and other projects along the whole stretch of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint rivers system. The dam gates had closed a year earlier, and the lake had risen to 1,034.07 feet above sea level toward its then-normal pool of 1,070.

Water Unlimited contained comments from Georgia Gov. Marvin Griffin, Florida Gov. Leroy Collins and Alabama Gov. Jim Folsom as well as members of Congress and other officials. They mostly seemed to be on the same page, a contrast to present and recent governors.

Said Griffin: "The benefits of an ample water supply ... promise a brilliant future for Georgia and its industries."

The area had suffered a drought three years earlier when rainfall was 20 inches below normal. Yet drinking water supply took a back seat to power generation, barge navigation south of Columbus and industrial development in remarks made by most officials in the special newspaper section.

Not that they weren't somewhat forward looking. Construction of Buford Dam in the first place proved somebody was. Upon completion of the dam, the state legislature that same year approved the Georgia Water Resources Commission Act. Its stated purpose: "Water resources shall be developed, conserved and utilized prudently to the maximum benefit of the people without jeopardizing public water supplies."

Lyndon Johnson, majority leader in the U.S. Senate at the time, said, "The whole nation is now beginning to feel the pinch of water shortages. We have to plan intelligently now if we are to avoid a very serious, and possibly disastrous, situation in the near future."

Then-Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson added, " ... our present national use of water is approaching 200 billion gallons per day ... this use is expect to double in the next 25 years." The U.S. Geological Survey in 2000 reported the number at 408 billion gallons.

President Eisenhower in 1954 formed a cabinet committee on water resources, saying, "If we are to continue to advance agriculturally and industrially we must make the best use of every drop of water that falls on our soil or which can be extracted from the oceans."

Sen. Richard Russell recognized the importance of water supply. In the Water Unlimited edition, he wrote, "Our surging suburbs and ever-expanding industries desperately need assurances that water will be available for their future needs."

The Daily Times in an editorial emphasized the need for more coordination among the various areas of the waterway. "Every drop of water conserved by Buford eventually accrues to the benefit of Apalachicola. Together the people of the Chattahoochee-Apalachicola-Flint River Basin can make these streams a great artery, streaming with the good things of life for the greater glory of our communities and our country."

Phil Landrum, congressman from the 9th District, which included Hall and most surrounding counties at the time, was a visionary, yet a realist. He probably had the wisest comments of anybody quoted at the time. He said, "‘Water Unlimited.' How wonderful it would be if that were literally true ... our water supply is annually decreasing, and today many areas ... face a crisis in providing for their water requirements.

"We can for our own needs see water in unlimited supply ... We cannot, however, be satisfied with the completion of Buford Dam. ... Rather we must quickly take advantage of the opportunity to develop our small watershed program to ensure the conserving of the soil and the water in the upper regions of our state and to ensure also that beautiful Lake Lanier will not soon revert to a body of muddy silt ..."

Words from half a century ago. They just as well could have been spoken today, and they just as well might not have been heard.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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