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Panel agrees: Lanier ruling could hurt all of state, not just Atlanta
A heron stalks the shore line looking for a meal at Holly Park on Lake Lanier.

ATLANTA — All of Georgia, not just metropolitan Atlanta, will suffer the effects of a federal court decision that Lake Lanier was not designated by Congress as a source of drinking water, government officials and legal experts stressed at a conference Friday.

"The pain is going to be felt all over Georgia," said Harold Reheis, vice president of Joe Tanner and Associates.

The best solution to Georgia’s water woes, according to Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division Director Carol Couch, is to approach the issue regionally without state lines in mind.

Reheis and Couch sat on a panel Friday with Sen. Johnny Isakson, Chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission Sam Olens and Gerald Pouncey Jr. a partner at Morris, Manning & Martin, during a lunchtime meeting of the Council for Quality Growth.

The council, based in Duluth, is an organization dedicated to promoting responsible growth policies.

Couch said that though Georgia will appeal a July 17 order by U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson requiring Georgia to reach an agreement with Florida and Alabama, or persuade Congress to authorize Lake Lanier as a water source in three years, securing the state’s water resources will require a holistic approach.

Pouncey, the panel’s legal expert, said that an appeal will be politically charged and difficult for Georgia. He said eight of the 11 judges serving on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals had backgrounds in Florida and Alabama.

Negotiation is still possible and preferable, Olens said. The regional commission chairman said the federal ruling was Judge Magnuson’s way of saying "enough is enough, solve the darn problem."

"This is not Serbia and Croatia," he said. "Common sense must be plentiful."

Finding a solution, Couch said, will require retooling the state’s water use plans, seeking out other water sources, negotiation and communication between government and business interests.

"Business, and the voice of business, needs ... to work against the isolationist and parochial interests of one aspect of the state of Georgia against the other, much less the interstate, very narrow-minded views that somehow the nature of our integrated regional economy stops and starts at a state line or a county line," Couch said.

Both Couch and Reheis stressed that the ruling is not just a problem for metro Atlanta. Reheis said it will affect economic growth across the state, and Couch urged the Council for Quality Growth to help spread that message.

"I think that outside of Georgia, metro Atlanta is seen to be Georgia," Reheis said. "... When you go around to Chicago and New York and Los Angeles and people are talking about ‘should we bring our business to Georgia,’ they’re really talking about bringing it to metro Atlanta in large part.

"If they perceive that — again, since Georgia is Atlanta in the view of a lot of folks — they’re going to perceive not that Atlanta’s out of water, but that Georgia’s out of water. So they’re not going to bring their business to Macon or Valdosta or Savannah or Columbus if they get the impression that Atlanta means Georgia’s out of water."