Georgia’s on-going water saga - could it affect southwest Georgia?
By Neil Fleckenstein, Planning Coordinator
The Red Hills region and the Albany plantation belt are blessed with an abundance of water resources including rivers, lakes, springs, and the Floridan aquifer, source of drinking water for millions of residents of Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and South Carolina. Events far from the Red Hills however, could one day affect water resources in southwest Georgia.
By now, nearly everyone is aware of the City of Atlanta’s water supply problems. Metro Atlanta and approximately 75 percent of its more than five million residents rely on Lake Lanier for much of their water supply. Lake Lanier was authorized by Congress in 1946 and built by the Army Corp of Engineers in 1956. There were two federally authorized purposes for Lake Lanier’s construction: flood control and hydroelectric power generation. Notably, potable water supply was not an authorized use. Fast forward to a July 17, 2009 ruling by US District Court Judge Paul Magnusson that established a three-year time table to resolve decades-old disagreements in freshwater allocation among Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. Judge Magnusson’s decision means that Atlanta will have to find most of its water elsewhere if the three states cannot reach an agreement by July 2012.
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has developed a four-pronged approach to respond to the ruling. This approach includes:
- Appealing the decision;
- Getting congressional approval for a reallocation of Lake Lanier’s water;
- Getting the Governors of Florida, Georgia and Alabama back to the negotiating table; and
- Developing contingency plans if the above steps are unsuccessful.
To fulfill the last directive, Governor Perdue has appointed a Water Contingency Task Force charged with developing specific recommendations before the Georgia Legislature meets in January, 2010. The Governor has directed the Task Force to consider all possible options.
A number of environmental and conservation groups, agricultural interests, editorial boards, and concerned citizens are worried that possible solutions to Atlanta’s water woes will include interbasin transfers from distant rivers (or the Floridan aquifer), construction of dams and major reservoirs on tributaries of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, and reduced state oversight of water supply infrastructure projects.
At the same time the Governor’s Water Contingency Task Force is working to meet its January 2010 deadline, the state’s Regional Water Planning Councils are working on the regional long range water resource plans required by the Georgia Water Plan (approved by the 2008 Georgia Legislature). These regional plans will identify the availability of water resources, determine regional water resource demand, and develop management strategies to address resource capacity gaps. The Regional Water Planning Councils must complete their plans no later than June 2011.
The Lower Flint/Ochlockonee River Water Planning Council represents the geographic area in which the Tall Timbers Land Conservancy holds conservation easements. The Council is comprised of 25 members, the majority of whom are farmers appointed by the Georgia Governor, Lt. Governor, and Speaker of the House. Tall Timbers’ Planning Coordinator Neil Fleckenstein has attended several Council meetings and it is clear that Council members are keenly aware of the interest metro Atlanta has in southwest Georgia’s water resources. Developing and implementing a plan to wisely conserve, manage, and protect this resource will be the Lower Flint/Ochlockonee River Water Planning Council’s focus over the next 18 months. Tall Timbers’ planning staff will continue to follow, participate in, and keep Tall Timbers’ members informed about Georgia’s water planning process and how that process could affect all of our strategic interests.
For additional information, contact Neil Fleckenstein at 850-893-4153, ext. 335.