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Water basin group tries to reach consensus
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Consensus requires conflict.

This was the statement at the heart of Thursday’s gathering of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders.

Thursday’s meeting, held at Lake Lanier Legacy Lodge and Conference Center on Lake Lanier Islands, was the first such meeting of the 1 1/2-year-old group at the major Chattahoochee River reservoir.

It was also the first time the 56-member governing board discussed the varied and contentious issues that have landed their political counterparts in the courtroom.

And Thursday, as the board began handling those issues, there was a lot of talk of gritting teeth.

“We’re trying to establish a common understanding for what the needs are in the basin,” said Dan Tonsmeire of the Apalachicola Riverkeeper. “It’s the very basis of what we have to do in order to move forward, and that is one of the hardest things that we’ll have to do.”

But addressing the conflict was the only way forward, as Rob Williams, a facilitator for the group’s discussion, told the board.

“Yes, there will be more conflict in this meeting than perhaps you’ve experienced before,” Williams told the group before discussions began on Thursday. “...Seeking consensus requires conflict.”

One by one, stakeholders briefly summarized their part of a recently written 141-page report that discusses the needs and problems of 14 different water use categories in the basin from water supply to navigation.

Wilton Rooks, chairman of the group’s executive committee, discussed the recreational use of water, calling it the stepchild of the ACF basin.

“What we tried to show in the report is that it’s not just a dollars and cents value, it’s got a quality of life value,” Rooks told the board.

Toby Dalton, an oysterman from Apalachicola, lamented the decline in water quality coming into the gulf from the three rivers.

“It’s just getting worse and worse every year,” Dalton said.

And Glenn Page, the manager of the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority, described the pressure on water providers to receive a return on their investment in treatment facilities while also encouraging customers to conserve.

And shortly after all 14 issues were presented, the conflict began, albeit respectfully, and the size of the task in front of the board seemed bigger than what a volunteer board could handle.

“I sense that there’s more work here than we can do as volunteers, and I don’t want us to lose sight of what it takes,” said Chadwick Taylor of CCT & Associates in the Apalachicola River basin.

One person, Joe Maltese, former assistant city manager of LaGrange, said the group had other issues to take into consideration such as managing growth and climate change.

“We can’t solve all the problems we face with water flow and lake elevation,” Maltese said. “We’ve got other considerations as we move forward.”

And more issues group members called “teeth-grinding issues” surfaced as participants spent the afternoon discussing how each group might need to change its behaviors for the benefit of the entire river basin.

There was talk of putting an economic value to each of the water issues, weighing the environmental needs of the river basin on a different level than the others and finding a way to utilize unused storage capacity in the reservoirs in the river systems.

But there was no consensus.

Today, the board meets again at the conference center to discuss how to move forward. The meeting, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., is open to the public.