The quest for solutions to our ongoing water crisis is beginning to spawn some well-intended but occasionally misguided ideas.
Start with Saturday's protest on the Chattahoochee River below Buford Dam, where four men in kayaks staged their version of a 1960s "sit-in." Call this one a "float-in" as they staked a position below the dam's gates defying the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to conduct their planned water releases from shrinking Lake Lanier .
The safety officers on hand outnumbered the kayakers by quite a few, and they gave up their protest after about an hour. Which was predictable: If the governor of Georgia, Congressional leaders and a looming lawsuit can't make the corps change its federally-mandated policies, a handful of folks in kayaks won't do the trick.
Also last week, the city of Gainesville passed an ordinance to crack down on those who violate the outdoor watering ban. Those who are caught will no longer earn a warning but an automatic $50 fine tacked onto their monthly bill. Repeat violators will face having their water cut off and a $200 surcharge.
We applaud Council for taking the ban seriously and making a move to enforce restrictions that have been ignored by many. However, we question whether $50 is enough to earn the attention of violators. Home or business owners who have invested thousands of dollars in landscaping may be willing to pay that much to keep the sprinklers going. We do like the $200 charge and threat to turn off the taps. Perhaps if that were the initial penalty, violators would take it seriously.
Also, state legislators unveiled plans to build more reservoirs to help conserve water and supply our growing population. It's a good idea, but one that should have been pushed decades ago. Key details, such as where to put them and how to pay for them, have yet to be determined.
Long-term, the hope is that communities looking to add reservoirs can cut through the miles of red tape involved and begin filling them as soon as the rains return. That may be the only way North Georgia can sustain its residential and commercial growth. Businesses will be less likely to locate here and bring jobs and tax dollars without being assured of a steady water supply. Same goes with the workers who might fill those jobs.
All of these grass-roots efforts spring from a vacuum in leadership from above. When the people in charge don't solve problems, frustration grows and some take matters into their own hands.
Gov. Sonny Perdue has asked a federal court to stop the corps from releasing so much water, but a quick ruling is not likely. Perdue also asked President Bush to declare a disaster area in drought-stricken areas of the state in order to slow the releases, but Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist opposed that and any change in corps' policy concerning releases into the river basin.
This dispute between the states has gone on too long already. If they couldn't solve it years ago when water was plentiful, doing so now in a crisis is all but impossible. Each governor is looking out for his state's best interests, but doing so makes it harder to reach an agreement to share water. With each drawing their lines in the mud, so to speak, it will be up to the White House and the courts to reach a decision on an issue the states themselves should have settled years ago.
What we need is statesmanship, but that means compromise, a dirty word in today's political landscape. Rather than create a win-win scenario (or in a case of a crisis, avoid a lose-lose), each governor is protecting his own turf at the exclusion of his neighbors' needs.
Riley, for instance, has yet to apply statewide watering restrictions despite warnings that the supply from Lake Lanier is down to a few months. Why should North Georgia residents bite the bullet and conserve while most Alabamans can water their lawns and wash their cars all they want?
What we hear from Riley, Crist and some in south Georgia is their impatience with Atlanta using so much water from the basin. And while it's true the city should have implemented better growth planning long ago, a metro area of more than 4 million people is going to use more water than Eufala, Ala., or Wewahitchka, Fla., under any circumstance. The resentment over Atlanta's status as an economic engine for the region only drives the wedge further between the states.
As long as the governors keep tossing barbs at each other and waiting for resolution from the courts or beyond, it's apparently up to average Georgians and their local leaders to weather the storm and devise short-term answers.
And indeed we are. In fact, those who make a real difference are the ones cutting back on their personal water use by making sacrifices to help conserve. Those who do so make this effort are worth more than a few kayak-paddling protesters and a boatload of stubborn politicians.