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Have we forgotten about water?
Poll: Voters rank water issues low on their priority lists
0926water
An aerial view of lakefront houses on Lake Lanier taken Sept. 16. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Sample ballots

For a sample ballot, contact your local elections office or visit www.sos.georgia.gov/MVP and enter your information. Ballots differ depending on your area of residence. And look next Sunday in The Times for a list of contested races and ballot questions for North Georgia.

Hall County Election Supervisor
2285 Browns Bridge Road, Suite 2
Post Office Drawer 1435
Gainesville, GA 30501-1435
Telephone: 770-531-6945
Fax: 770-531-3931

Banks County Chief Registrar
Banks County Courthouse
144 Yonah-Homer Road, Suite 9
Homer, GA 30547-2614
Telephone: 706-677-6260
Fax: 706-677-4102

Dawson County Election Supervisor
96 Academy Ave.
Dawsonville, GA 30534-0436
Telephone: 706-344-3640
Fax: 706-344-3642

Forsyth County Election Supervisor
110 East Main St., Suite 200
Cumming, GA 30040-2468
Telephone: 770-781-2118
Fax: 770-886-2825

Habersham County Chief Registrar
555 Monroe St., Unit 45
Clarkesville, GA 30523-7815
Telephone: 706-754-4068
Fax: 706-754-5836

Jackson County Chief Registrar
Administrative Building
67 Athens St.
Jefferson, GA 30549-1401
Telephone: 706-367-6377
Fax: 706-367-1193

Lumpkin County Election Supervisor
99 Courthouse Hill, Suite G
Dahlonega, GA 30533-0540
Telephone: 706-864-6279
Fax: 706-864-0731

Towns CountyElections Department
48 River St., Suite B
Hiawassee, GA 30546
Telephone: 706-896-6920

Union County Election Board
Union County Annex II
41 Hospital St., Suite 107
Blairsville, GA 30512
Phone: 706-439-6016
Fax: 706-439-6015
E-mail: ucexec@uniongov.com

White County Chief Registrar
59 South Main St., Suite C
Cleveland, GA 30528
Telephone: 706-865-2225
Fax: 706-219-0078

 

Our Views: Clocks are ticking on water wars

Water issues may be far from most voters' minds in Georgia, but in less than two years, Lake Lanier's uses will be drastically changed. And the next governor will be the one leading efforts to secure the state's water rights.

After decades of arguments between Georgia, Alabama and Florida over who has rights to the water along the Chattahoochee River, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson said in July 2009 he will severely restrict metro Atlanta's use of Lake Lanier in 2012 unless political leaders in the three states reach a deal.

Trying to wrap up talks before all three governors leave office in December, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue sent letters to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley earlier this month to set up a meeting.

"He's always found that the most progress happens during and right after the governor meetings when they can all get together in a room. Since all three are
going out of office, this is a unique point in time to be able to get something done," Perdue spokesman Bert Brantley said. "He's very hopeful they can get something done by December."

In response letters, Riley has agreed to meet soon, but Crist wants to see more progress with each state's negotiation team before meeting, "so the governor meeting will be more fruitful," Brantley said.

Spokespersons for Crist and Riley didn't return calls for comment throughout the week.

After decades of struggles, local water experts know the action will be up to the next governors in the three states.

"They promised to get it done again by December but also promised to get it done by last December. They just can't do it, and it's going to keep going" said Val Perry, executive vice president for the Lake Lanier Association.

"Right now, our lake is very strong, the rain is good and it hasn't been like the last drought."

Without a public focus on the lake, as during past dire drought circumstances, political arguments between the officials and ongoing litigation will continue to drag the issue forward, he said.

"Crist is the only one running for anything, so he may dig in his heels for the state of Florida because of the election coming up," he said. "There are so many things they could do, like desalination, for their salt and brackish water, but none of those ideas have ever been brought forward. I also fail to see what Alabama wants out of this except maybe creating more businesses."

Although the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders group tries to stay out of the litigation, members hope the new governor will include them in future negotiations, interim President Wilton Rooks said.

"We reached out to all the gubernatorial candidates in all three states and sent questionnaires to ask what their approach would be," Rooks said. "From the ones we've received, 100 percent agree they would be involved. I don't know how much of that is campaign talk and how they'll interpret it once they get in office, but I'm optimistic that they've come forward with positive statements."

Though the water issue has moved to the back burner amid economic concerns, the issue is on the Georgia gubernatorial candidates' minds; both Republican Nathan Deal and Democrat Roy Barnes have sections of their campaign websites dedicated to the issue. The candidates for Florida and Alabama didn't list the water issue at all - with only "environment" or "natural resources" coming close.

Spokespersons for both Florida gubernatorial candidates - Republican Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink - didn't return calls for comment throughout the week. Alabama Republican candidate Robert Bentley also didn't return calls for interviews.

Alabama Democrat candidate Ron Sparks gave a brief comment on how officials outside of Georgia will handle the water wars.

"We're going to be very aggressive in fighting for the water that comes into Alabama because we want to protect jobs in Alabama, and water is a key to economic growth," said Taylor Bright, Sparks' communications director.

The Georgia candidates talked about specific ideas.

Deal, who has handled Lake Lanier questions for years in the 9th U.S. House District, said he thinks three new governors can start with a clean slate to reach a settlement, especially after the General Assembly and Perdue took a step during the last legislative session with a conservation bill.

"When we go back before the judge to fight for our water rights, it's important that we can show we're taking serious steps in Georgia to use our water resources responsibly," Deal said Friday. "The court should give Georgia credit for being a good steward of the water and we should get credit for the water we treat and return to the basin. The bottom line here is that the three governors need to reach an agreement that provides for Georgia's long-term growth and population needs."

Barnes, who has addressed statewide water issues as governor, noted that the next Georgia governor can't get anywhere without the other two states on board.

"We must be able to sit down with Alabama and Florida and the courts with solutions. These solutions include building new reservoirs, looking into alternatives such as underground storage and abandoned rock quarries and repairing leaky pipes and updating inefficient municipal water infrastructure," he said. "We must act immediately to make water access and conservation a leading statewide priority. Once we show our neighboring states that Georgia is serious about reducing its burden on Lake Lanier, we will position ourselves for more favorable congressional and legal outcomes."

Georgia's senators also have agreed to help the new governor get a jumpstart on water issues.

Sen. Johnny Isakson submitted three projects to the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee for consideration in the next Water Resources Development Act, which authorizes Army Corps of Engineers projects. These projects discuss the usage and control manual of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River system, return flow credits and added definitions for how Lake Lanier can be authorized for water supply, including municipal and industrial water supply.

"Sen. Isakson will absolutely work with the new governor to solve this issue, which is critical to the people of Georgia," said Sheridan Watson, Isakson's press secretary.
"He believes this is a huge challenge, but it is a challenge we must meet."

Sen. Saxby Chambliss has talked to other senators about the problem and introduced pieces of legislation to end the water wars.

"Sen. Chambliss has supported Gov. Perdue from a federal standpoint in his fight for Georgia, and he intends to do the same for the new Georgia governor," said Bronwyn Lance-Chester, Chambliss' communications director. "Ultimately, an agreement on allocation is going to have to come from the three governors."

 

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