After 22 years of legal and political posturing by successive governors, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and various state agencies, Georgia up and lost the last round of the "water war."
This time, in a sweeping judicial decision, our fate is sealed in three years (up a dry creek with out a paddle) without congressional action.
For 22 years, our Norton Native Intelligence forecasts have cried for water solutions, long-range water planning, conservation and "real world" water business practices for the capture, storage and distribution of water. The states have been acting like three little kids fighting over toys in a sandbox. Without water, Atlanta will become a concrete desert. Without water, Georgia's food processing businesses will evaporate and the general public will become parched toast.
Since the ruling I've heard lots of folks bellyaching and moaning but no one really putting forth any concrete ideas. I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I want to put my destiny in the hands of 535 congressmen who have a hard time deciding about anything. It's not Georgia's 13 that I'm not worried about; it's the other unpredictable 522.
My grandmother always said, "It is what it is. Now, whatcha going to do about it?"
When down and out, I've always found a well thought-out game plan helped clear the walk through the fog and smoke.
1. If we can only use Lake Lanier for flood and navigation, then shut the flood gates of Buford Dam and release water for those two purposes. The mussels will have to learn to survive. Result: the lake will remain full.
2. Start accurately documenting the barge traffic along the waterways. It would be interesting to see if barges are the 21st century equivalent of the "horse and buggy" and have been replaced by container truck traffic on our Interstate highways. Result: an accurate cost vs. benefit study on the transportation aspect of Lake Lanier releases.
3. If we have no water withdrawals from Lake Lanier unless Congress approves them (except Gainesville and Buford), then the same should apply to the entire Flint-Chattahoochee-Apalachicola basin. No water may be removed from any river, nor the 13 lakes in the chain, nor feeding tributary, by any state, county or municipality without the same approval by Congress. Result: What's fair is fair.
4. Immediately request federal stimulus funds to remove 51 years of silt from Lake Lanier; dig it deeper increasing its storage capacity. It's a "shovel ready " project. Today, thousands of graders are out of work and the best of all, we don't have to wait 10 to 20 years to go through governmental red tape — it's already EPA approved. Result: more storage means more water for everyone.
5. While we're asking Mama Congress for permission for a glass of water or two, ask them to raise the level of Lake Lanier two feet (that's 85,000 acre feet of additional water storage, a bunch) and earmark that part exclusively for Georgia consumption. Result: all the water we will ever hope to drink.
6. Hall County as a measure of safety (sometimes plans don't always work) needs to immediately build a water plant and a distribution connection into its existing East Hall reservoir and accelerate the construction of the Glades Reservoir. Result: It's always good to have a Plan B.
7. Support a temporary 1-cent statewide sales tax to build reservoirs and pipeline distribution throughout Georgia. That's new lakes in the Georgia National Forests, tapping the South Georgia aquifer, creating a system of deep water wells and building desalination plants along Georgia's coast. Result: Everyone benefits from a diversification of our water resources.
8. Appoint a tri-state water czar and relinquish all three states' political control over all water storage, distribution and withdrawal. Charge this czar with sound, long-range, balanced, nonpolitical water planning for all three states. You might even include Tennessee as a fourth. And start planning for regional growth; 2050 is just around the corner. Result: It just makes too much sense.
Two-thirds of Lake Lanier is in Hall County and 100 percent of it is inside Georgia and we (Gainesville and Buford) can only withdraw some 13 million gallons of water per day vs. the estimated needs of 45 million residents. As ridiculous, absurd and outlandish as the ruling might appear, it's time we control our own destiny. Right now!
Frank K. Norton Jr. is president of The Norton Agency, a Gainesville real estate firm.