Environmentalists cautiously optimistic on water plan

By Maria Saporta

Environmentalists feared Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Water Contingency Planning Task Force would end up recommending sprawling reservoirs and inter-basin water transfers.

But at the task force’s meeting today, inter-basin water transfers did not fare well, according to a survey of its members. And developing water reservoirs was viewed as a long term solution at best.

Instead, conserving water bubbled to the top as the most popular solution, especially in the short-term.

“From what I’m able to tell at the moment, it’s moving in a better direction than I had feared,” said Pierre Howard, president of the Georgia Conservancy and a member of the task force. “Inter-basin transfers into the metro region was something we were strongly against.”

The one major criticism Howard had about the recommendations was to reward conservation with incentives rather than making conservation of water mandatory. Howard said conservation could be far more effective with mandatory requirements.

As for reservoirs, it is not clear how big a part of they could be as part of metro Atlanta’s long term solution.

Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, said there are no measures that can replace the region’s water supply from Lake Lanier by 2012. The 2015 timeframe might be doable, but it will be extremely expensive. So the task force seemed to favor planning for a 2020 plan.

“We could expand some of the existing reservoirs by raising the water levels by a couple of feet,” Williams said. As for new reservoirs and other more extreme measures, Williams said: “It’s a matter of economics. Let’s look at what economically has the less impact on citizens of the region.”

Again, Williams said “conservation is the cheapest” approach, but he added that “the volume of water that it saves you is not what a lot of people believe we need.”

Howard and other environmental groups have pointed out many of the disadvantages of new reservoirs.

“We at the Georgia Conservancy feel we need to maximize conservation before we start building massive reservoirs,” Howard said.

But Howard added that filling abandoned quarries with water would be a better way to store water. “We feel pretty good about quarries,” Howard said.

The biggest hope for the region will be for the governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida to reach a water agreement, and that would clear the way for the reauthorization of water from Lake Lanier for the region.

A federal judge has given the three states only three years to reach consensus to prevent having to drastically reduce the amount of water the region draws out of Lake Lanier.

The Georgia Water Coalition, a group of environmental organizations, has come up with five principles for sustainable water supply:

1. Water is, and must remain, a public resources.
2. The existing ban on inter-basin transfers with the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District must remain inviolate.
3. Any water management strategy for metro Atlanta must ensure downstream communities of guaranteed instream flows so as not to deprive them of future economic prosperity.
4. Water policy decisions must be based on science and must protect all uses.
5. To meet water needs in the most efficient and cost-effective manner, only three reservoirs are needed: a reauthorized Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona and a “Hidden Reservoir:” the use of aggressive water conservation.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

3 replies
  1. Dose of Reality says:

    This “solution” is a joke. Conservation – even if mandatory – would not result in anything close to the reduced levels that will be allowed under the 2012 guideline. Furthermore, this demonstrates to AL and FL that they have the upper hand in limiting Atlanta’s water supply.

    The ultimate solution under the path this process is leading will be Alabama and Florida agreeing to “sell” part of their more-than-enough supply back to Atlanta – at a ridiculous premium. And we’ll end up paying other states for water that is already sitting in our reservoir.

    Purdue should be playing hardball, and should have assigned the task force to look at building another reservoir downstream of Lanier that would simply accept Lanier’s output, and pump it right back up to Atlanta… the original authorization only placed guidelines on what Atlanta could withdraw from Lanier, but says nothing about what Atlanta can withdraw from further upstream or downstream of Lanier.

    But Purdue seems consigned to just giving up water that not only powers the economic engine of the state, but is rightfully ours anyway. Meanwhile Miami, Orlando, Tampa and Birmingham are all salivating at the idea of the price of metro Atlanta’s utilities going through the roof.Report

  2. Reality Check says:

    This is in rebuttal to Dose of Reality’s comment.

    1. Florida and Alabama do not have more-than-enough water. Flows in the Apalachicola River have been perilously low in recent years, and this can be attributed in part to increased consumption in Metropolitan Atlanta.

    2. The water is not rightfully Atlanta’s. The water belongs to all users in the watershed and the water should be managed on a system-wide basis. The water allocation formula should ensure adequate supplies of water, of an adequate quality, to all users in the basin to assure both ecologic and economic sustainability for the basin as a whole.Report


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?