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Our Views: Surf & turf wars
Hall, Gainesville should accept chambers offer to mediate dispute over reservoir use
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As the clock ticks down toward the deadline for a statewide water agreement, now just two years and two months away, the movement toward a long-term answer has been imperceptibly slow.

And recent disagreements between Gainesville and Hall County over how to tap into planned and existing reservoirs aren't getting us any closer to a solution.

At the state level, Gov. Sonny Perdue has continued negotiations with the governors of Alabama and Florida to find an equitable way to share water in their common river systems. And the state legislature, at Perdue's urging, passed a strong conservation bill that will help preserve the water we already have.

The state, meanwhile, continues its legal challenge against last July's ruling by federal District Court Judge Paul Magnuson that denies Atlanta and other North Georgia communities unfettered use of Lake Lanier for drinking water.

That ruling remains in effect, however, with negotiation, legislation and litigation all creeping forward ever so slowly toward a possible fix that would keep the taps flowing in our area for years to come.

Here in Hall County, plans are moving forward for the proposed Glades Reservoir in Northeast Hall, an 850-acre lake that county officials hope can provide as much as 100 million gallons of water per day. In fact, they are so optimistic of its yield they are negotiating with other counties to sell some of that water.

And there's another reservoir in place, already full of water, though right now serving only to attract anglers and mosquitoes. That's the Cedar Creek lake in East Hall, 141 acres of sparkling ripples waiting to be tapped.

The problem is that a water treatment facility and pumping system has yet to be constructed to get that water to your house. And that's where the dispute begins.

Hall County first built the reservoir in 2000, using special purpose sales tax money. It then attempted to hand ownership of the reservoir to Gainesville in 2006, which provides water service both to city and county residents.

Now, as the Glades project moves forward and the need to use Cedar Creek's water increases, the city and county are caught in a spitting match over who should control water in the 10-year-old reservoir.

The deal Hall signed with Gainesville four years ago did not expressly provide a permit for the city to withdraw water. And now county officials want it back, hoping to tie Cedar Creek to Glades to form its own unified water system.

Gainesville officials want the county to stick to its original agreement and allow water withdrawals. If done, that would let the city proceed with building a treatment plant and conduit to get the water into the city's existing system.

The city, in fact, is pushing ahead with plans for such a plant, and may be willing to let the county's water withdrawal permit to expire in 2012 before seeking its own.

All this rancor between officials on both sides has precluded a deal so far, all while residents scratch their heads. Their political turf wars over who controls what might make sense to someone on the inside, but to those who just want the water to come out of the faucet, it seems trivial and futile.

To try and end the stalemate, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce has offered to pay for an independent facilitator to help both sides come to an agreement to use the reservoir. That offer was made last week in a letter from Chamber President Kit Dunlap to Hall commission Chairman Tom Oliver and Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner.

There's no word yet on whether the sides will accept, but we hope they will. This issue is far too important to let petty political squabbles get in the way of a solution.

At one level, we understand why a deal has been hard to reach. From Gainesville's perspective, the original deal should be followed, as its intent was to turn Cedar Creek's water over to the city system. If that was the county's promise, then it should be kept.

Hall officials, meanwhile, are looking to create a countywide system that includes both reservoirs and could, in the long run, make everyone less reliant on Lanier for water.

Officials for both sides plan to meet soon, which is a good start. Still, channeling negotiations through a facilitator might be the best solution. An independent arbiter might be able to find common ground in who should control an integrated water system, all while giving both sides some political cover.

Disputes between Gainesville and Hall County, or between the county and its other cities, are nothing new or surprising. As our area grows, different governments feel the need to serve their specific constituents' interests, and those may, at times, be at odds with their neighbors down the road. It's all part of the give and take of governance.

But in this case, access to a water source that can supplement any impending loss from Lake Lanier is crucial to everyone and needs to be a high priority. If Magnuson's ruling takes effect without a congressional mandate or state-negotiated solution, local governments will be left on their own to find new water sources.

In the case of Hall and Gainesville, there is such a source; they just need to make it work.

It's time for the bickering to end. Gainesville and Hall officials should accept the Chamber's offer and come to the table willing to do what's best for all residents' long-term water needs.

Their insistence on stubbornly drawing a line and refusing to budge has so far resulted in a nice lake that's great for fishing and pretty to look at, but not much else.

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