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.