The chief of environmental planning for the Atlanta Regional Commission says she is pressing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to change the way it moves water through the river basin that flows in and out of Lake Lanier.
Pat Stevens, who spoke to members of the South Hall business coalition of the Hall Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, said the commission continues to push the corps to reconsider its efforts to protect the endangered species in the Apalachicola River, which forms at the corners of Georgia, Florida and Alabama and flows to the Gulf.
The corps, under most circumstances, releases no less than 5,000 cubic feet of water per second from Jim Woodruff Dam in Chattahoochee, Fla., to protect endangered mussels and sturgeon breeding grounds.
"Our view is we don't think that's going to be sustainable in the long term, multiyear drought," said Stevens. "We've not seen the worst drought yet."
Stevens argued to business leaders that the concept of "shared pain" in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin needs to be revisited.
Stevens told chamber members that Georgia's — specifically metro Atlanta's — conservation efforts are "actually better than most other areas right now." She said per capita water demand has consistently decreased in metro Atlanta since 2006.
"I think we've out-California-ed California," Stevens said.
But she said that consumptive use of water out of the Flint River for farms in Southwest Georgia is straining water supply in the metro Atlanta area.
"Our estimate is, in the last summer, Lanier was drawn down about four feet because (water) wasn't coming from the Flint," said Stevens. "That's an issue that we're going to have to grapple with. I don't know what the solution is. I don't know what you can do about agricultural irrigation, it's just hard to control. But I think sooner or later, somebody's going to sue somebody over endangered species in the Flint, and that's just going to have to be something we have to grapple with."