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Water worries take a back seat in voters minds
Lake Lanier deadline 2 years off, but economy now is top issue
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About the poll
The Georgia Newspaper Partnership/Mason-Dixon poll was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, D.C., from July 8 through July 13. The poll posed general election questions to 625 likely voters, and an oversample of 400 Democrats and 400 Republicans was sampled on questions relating specifically to the upcoming primary election. The telephone interviews were randomly selected and distributed across Georgia.

The margin for error is plus or minus four percentage points overall and plus or minus five percentage points for each party oversample. This means there is a 95 percent probability the “true” figure would fall within that range if the entire population were sampled.

The margin for error is higher for any subgroup, such as a regional or gender grouping.

About Georgia Newspaper Partnership
The Times has joined with 13 other daily newspapers to provide comprehensive coverage of the gubernatorial and congressional campaigns. The partner newspapers have jointly commissioned this poll and two others that will be taken later in the political season. Information in some of today’s election stories have been provided by reporters at the partner papers.

Partner newspapers include Athens Banner-Herald, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Augusta Chronicle, Chattanooga Times Free-Press, (Columbus) Ledger-Enquirer, The (Dalton) Daily Citizen, The Georgia Times-Union, The (Macon) Telegraph, Rome News-Tribune, Savannah Morning News, Statesboro Herald and The Valdosta Daily Times.

One year ago today, a federal judge ruled that much of the water being withdrawn from Lake Lanier was being pulled illegally.

But a new poll shows that Georgia voters may be more concerned with their wallets than a dry tap.

In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson gave Georgia officials until July 2012 to reach an agreement with Florida and Alabama over how the reservoir’s resources should be shared, have Congress reauthorize the reservoir or stop using it to supply 3.5 million metro-Atlanta residents with drinking water.

And with only two years to go on that deadline, water advocates say little has been done to secure Georgia’s water supply.

However, Gov. Sonny Perdue said Friday  there is reason for optimism, reasserting his commitment to negotiate with the governors of Alabama and Florida and reminding constituents of the state’s first comprehensive approach to water conservation.

“I want to reassure Georgians that I am doing everything I can to reach agreement on a beneficial water sharing plan before leaving office early next year,” Perdue said in a statement.

The governor addressed his “four-pronged” plan of attack in a statement Friday, which includes seeking congressional reauthorization of the reservoir, a pending appeal of Magnuson’s ruling, a new conservation bill and attempts at negotiation.

At a media briefing Thursday, advocates of the Chattahoochee River, which supplies Lake Lanier, said the governor’s actions weren’t enough. Sally Bethea, executive director of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said she and leaders of other river groups around the state held the briefing Thursday to remind voters headed to the polls in Tuesday’s state primary to consider candidates’ plans for securing a future water supply for Georgians.

“Voters need to be reminded that our next governor is going to have to grapple with this issue, and he or she is only going to have 18 months,” said Bethea. “And we better be picking a leader who’s willing to chart a new course, because we haven’t made enough progress today.”

Yet the future of metro Atlanta’s water supply ranks low on the list of priorities of 800 voters surveyed by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research between July 8 and July 13.

The survey shows voters are most concerned about the future of the economy, government spending and health care. Issues such as abortion and gay rights also ranked higher than water supply in the survey.

Those results don’t surprise Bethea.

“We all just have such short memories,” Bethea said. “If this was two years ago, I’m sure it would be over half of poll answering the poll would have said that they were interested or concerned about water back when we were having the drought and before the economy really got so bad.”

A drought that dropped the level of Lake Lanier by more than 20 feet two years ago is a thing of the past today. Now the lake is full and the economy is in the tank.

Brad Coker, managing director of Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, said the results show that voters are concerned with today’s problems, not the ones in the past or two years in the future.

“Obviously, it’s not as big of a problem as it was,” Coker said. “I can remember everything was drying up up there and they were talking about rationing ... but if nobody’s talking about water rationing and that kind of thing, it goes off the radar.”

Bethea agrees, but she says part of voters’ water supply apathy could be due to the state’s leadership.

“Our state leaders in some ways seem to be minimizing the threat that we have in front of us in two years and engendering a sense of complacency by saying ‘hey we’ve got it under control with our plan of response,’” said Bethea. “... I think that’s why you see a low percentage interest. We have short memories sometimes.”