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Georgia, don't pin your water shortage on us
By A TIMES EDITORIAL
Published October 19, 2007
It would be easier for Floridians to sympathize with Atlanta over its water shortage if Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue would stop blaming us for it. Perdue is threatening to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop it from releasing water from Lake Lanier near Atlanta downstream to Florida's Apalachicola River and productive estuary. Perdue and other Georgia officials have tried to turn this into a fight between human beings in Atlanta and shellfish in Florida.
Georgia's congressional delegation is even trying to rewrite the Endangered Species Act so that water could be legally diverted from environmental needs. Not only is that short-sighted but also unlikely to give Georgia any enduring relief. In an interconnected ecosystem, you can't just send your problems downstream.
Here's the truth, Gov. Perdue: A record drought, unrestrained population growth and poor water-conservation habits are to blame for northern Georgia's water shortage.
The Tampa Bay area knows a little something about droughts, shortages and water wars. We didn't learn the easy way, either. After competing counties blamed each other for years, local officials finally decided to work together. Even then solutions haven't come easily - our desalination plant is still not living up to its promise, too many homeowners cheat on sprinkling restrictions and some communities haven't moved fast enough to expand reclaimed water.
We've at least admitted there aren't any painless solutions, while Georgia is still looking for scapegoats. Metropolitan Atlanta's population growth was the largest in the nation over the past six years, yet Perdue and state lawmakers have failed to write a state water plan or even pass basic water-conservation legislation. Although northern Georgia's water reservoirs have been shrinking at an alarming rate, the state didn't ban outdoor watering for the Atlanta area until recently.
Florida officials have expressed concern about their neighbor's dilemma, but they are understandably worried about the implications for our state. The Apalachicola River is already so low that its banks are drying out and crumbling, and a certain amount of fresh water is needed to keep a Red Tide infestation from moving into the estuary, which would devastate the local seafood industry. Michael Sole, secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, has asked the Corps of Engineers to give careful consideration to any reduction in water flow from Lake Lanier.
Georgia needs to cool its rhetoric and admit we're all in this together, then others will be more likely to offer help. The drought will eventually pass, but the burgeoning Atlanta area will still have a water supply problem. Georgia will have to consider more serious steps at water conservation and growth management.
And if it makes Georgia feel any better, Florida needs to do the same thing.