The federal court ruling that set a three-year clock ticking on water withdrawals from Lake Lanier won't just affect Metro Atlanta and North Georgia. Its impact will be felt in every corner of the state.
Even with the most optimistic outcome where a settlement is worked out between Georgia, Alabama, and Florida over the use of Lanier, the amount of water available to Metro Atlanta governments will likely be reduced to a level that cannot support the current trends of development and growth. What then?
The first reaction of metro and state officials could well be attempts to start taking water from other areas of Georgia. They might move eastward toward Athens and the Savannah River, in a northerly direction toward Rome and the Coosa River basin, and southward to the areas below the fall line where ground water is more abundant.
We saw the first hints of that movement several years ago when officials working for Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin proposed the construction of a cross-state pipeline that would transport desalinated water from the coastal area around Savannah to the capital city.
These efforts to grab water far from home will obviously be met with fierce resistance from the folks who live outside the metro area. Some of that hostility has been on display for years from Columbus and LaGrange, downstream users of Chattahoochee water who don't like what Atlanta has been doing. It could result in some of the nastiest political fights this state has ever seen.
Another likely development could be attempts to build new reservoirs that would provide water supply alternatives to Lake Lanier. Those reservoirs would require a long permitting process because of environmental regulations and the costs of impounding these lakes would probably require substantial tax increases for all Georgia residents.
You can bet that people living far south of Atlanta are not going to be happy about attempts to impose higher taxes so that developers up north can continue to build their office parks and shopping malls. This also has the potential to bring on political war between the northern and southern ends of the state.
There could be a happier ending here as well.
With a future of limited water supplies on the horizon, our elected leaders should seriously consider moving more of the state government offices out of Atlanta to areas where water supplies are not in such a crisis mode.
There have already been some moves in this direction. Former secretary of state Cathy Cox shifted her department's licensing division to Macon several years ago. Gov. Sonny Perdue wants to move the corrections department headquarters to the Tift College campus in Forsyth.
Perhaps the person who replaces Tommy Irvin as agriculture commissioner when Irvin retires after 2010 will consider moving that department's headquarters to middle or south Georgia where it would be more centrally located for the industry it serves.
More of these government relocations should be brought up for discussion. They make sense from the viewpoint of customer service and they could bring some badly needed jobs to areas far from Atlanta.
Along the same lines, businesses and industries that may want to move to Georgia but also require a plentiful supply of water will think long and hard about whether they want to relocate to a metro area where consumption is going to be tightly controlled.
There are opportunities here for communities in the other parts of Georgia to sell themselves as more water-friendly to the needs of industry. Metro Atlanta's water future has always been questionable because of the limitations of the Chattahoochee River. It's time for some of that development to move to areas where the water is more plentiful and, frankly, where the growth would be more appreciated.
Georgia's leaders should also let go of the idea that they can move the state's northern boundary line and take water from the Tennessee River. It would be a better idea to negotiate with Tennessee about buying some of that water, even though that will be an expensive proposition.
There are negative and positive possibilities for the state's future because of the Lanier water crisis. If our political leadership is smart enough, they may be able to move us in the more positive direction.
Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report, an Internet news service at www.gareport.com that covers government and politics in Georgia.