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Shipp: Georgia burned up over water

Perdue blames corps, but fingers downstream point to Atlanta

POSTED: January 3, 2008 5:02 a.m.

I have seldom seen so many people hot about water. Almost overnight, water conservation ranks right up there with banning gay marriages, abolishing the IRS and stopping the spread of children's health care as leading topics for fist-shaking argument.

The difference this time is that the water-shortage issue is real. What hasn't changed, though, is that the guilty parties - some of our elected leaders - don't know what to do, except find somebody, anybody, else to blame.

Just like in the old days, they are pointing fingers at the feds. You'd think someone was trying to integrate a lunch counters instead of struggling to save us from thirst. Gov. Sonny Perdue and his buds tell us that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is obsessed with releasing water to keep shellfish happy in the Gulf of Mexico. So it makes sense to file a lawsuit in federal court to stop the corps. Well, it makes sense if you have fish for brains.

Anyone who believes the corps' desire to save the mussels is the reason that North Georgia is running out of water probably also believes that shopping will end the war in Iraq. The corps has many, many more downstream constituents than the mussels at Apalachicola.

How about the citizens of Florida, Alabama and non-Atlanta Georgians? They have rights to water too, don't they?

One metro official, a Republican one at that, has hinted that he thinks suing the corps may not end the water crisis. Cobb Commission Chairman Sam Olens says a lawsuit will consume too much time and money to help. The region requires substantive action now, action beyond the demagoguery of Perdue and his crowd, action beyond paying millions in lawyers' fees to play the blame game.

The folks at the other end of the state aren't too pleased with the finger-pointing approach either.
Said the Valdosta Daily Times in an editorial: "Gov. Sonny Perdue's temper tantrums against the Army Corps of Engineers, the people of Florida and anyone else associated with not giving in to his demands continued through the weekend, with meetings at Lake Lanier and declaring northern Georgia a disaster area Saturday to further enforce what everyone else has long known: Atlanta is a greedy, poorly designed behemoth of a city incapable of hearing the word ‘no' and dealing with it.

"The wasteful ways of Atlantans continued through the past decade of severe drought in the state. The water restrictions meant little to them ‘up there' as they had plenty of water at the time, while rural Georgia and farmers were watching their crops burn in their fields, listening as Atlanta politicians, who apparently think their food originates in a grocery store, passed policies designed to prevent (farmers) from accessing the water beneath their feet.

"These same politicians can't bring themselves to tell their greedy constituents complaining about the low flows in their toilets this week that perhaps if they didn't have six bathrooms, it might ease the situation a bit. That watering your lawn isn't as important as watering crops. Or that their greedy overbuilding has taxed their supplies of natural resources beyond their capabilities."

Here's another sample opinion, from a UGA biology professor (he doesn't want his name used) who wrote in an e-mail: "Students have been asking me lately if the water crisis is real. I tell 'em it's realer than they realize. It's worse than their ‘leaders' have been telling them. I also talk to them about how their leaders at the state and local levels failed to deal with the water situation for years. They were told it was coming but didn't listen, mostly because they'd have to ask folks to sacrifice.

"They'd be pitching reality in the form of bad news, and everybody knows what happened to Jimmy Carter when he put on that sweater in the '70s gas crisis and went on TV to ask people to sacrifice and conserve! Exit Mr. Carter and enter Mr. Reagan, who told people they'd never have to sacrifice. Our leaders are equally cynical and lacking in guts. We live in an age when nobody is asked to sacrifice, even during this expensive, bloody war. So now we're running dry.

"If the city of Athens was really concerned about water, and had some backbone, they and UGA would cancel all coming home games and take other drastic measures now, including hiking water use rates."
Hold on, professor. Go sit in the shade and fan yourself for a minute. Canceling Bulldog football games may be going a bit far. However, if we're ready for that kind of sacrifice, let's do it now, before the team gets to Auburn and really faces a jam.

Bill Shipp's column on Georgia politics appears Wednesdays in The Times. Contact him at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160.



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