Lake Lanier is a federal project, which creates some obstacles for Georgia seeking to improve its drinking water situation.
But the state government isn’t entirely hamstrung, looking beyond Lanier’s borders and related legal issues to help ensure future water needs are met.
For one thing, Gov. Nathan Deal is involved in ongoing discussions with his counterparts in Alabama and Florida on the issue of water sharing.
“There’s a gag order in place, so that’s not something we can discuss,” said his spokesman, Brian Robinson.
Georgia has some leverage, having won a decades-long legal battle over whether drinking water was an original authorized use of Lake Lanier. That issue was decided in a federal appeals court, which declared that it was, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from Alabama and Florida.
State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said Deal’s lengthy experience as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives is a bonus.
“He has a great deal of experience in negotiating with the federal government and the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers),” which governs Lake Lanier, Miller said. “He has some insight into water issues that a lot of governors don’t have, and I think that’s been a tremendous advantage for us.”
Also, Tennessee’s willingness to negotiate with Georgia in a border dispute involving water from the Tennessee River, and Georgia officials are like-minded on the issue.
“I think those are really positive things for the future of Lanier,” Miller said.
State Rep.-elect Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, said he believes Georgia can help reduce wait times for reservoir applications.
“That’s what we’re going to need to do — add reservoirs wherever we can hold water for human use,” he said.
Deal launched a four-year plan to spend $300 million on projects expected to help boost Georgia’s water supply.
He has said Hall County’s proposed Glades Reservoir, which is awaiting a corps permit, would have state benefits.
All of Hall’s state lawmakers said at a Dec. 13 legislative breakfast sponsored by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce that they favored moving forward on Glades.
Finishing out Deal’s initiative is a “no-brainer,” said state Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville.
“We’re trying to capture water in reservoirs that are not in the ACF and other river zones, and we’re trying to raise the flood ponds and lakes built in the 1950s, to try to keep them out of the litigation arms of Alabama and Florida,” he said.
Rogers is referring to the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin, which runs from Lake Lanier in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south.
Otherwise, help for Lanier is going to have to come from weather forces beyond anyone’s control.
“We’re always working on issues, but the big issue is if it doesn’t rain, we don’t get the surface water we need,” Rogers said.