Lake Lanier ruling revives water concerns

Lake Lanier ruling revives water concerns

October 1st, 2009 by Andy Johns in News

A "ticking water bomb" set in motion by a federal judge's ruling on Atlanta's use of Lake Lanier for drinking water is actually a good thing for the state, a North Georgia environmental group says.

The decision has pushed water issues to the top of the list for state officials who previously had left them on the back burner, according to the Coosa River Basin Initiative, based in Rome.

"The judge dropped a ticking water bomb in the laps of Georgia leaders," the group wrote in an opinion piece earlier this month. "The judge's decision now forces Georgia to get serious about securing alternative water supplies, and it appears to be having an effect."

The judge ruled that Atlanta must reduce its use of Lake Lanier as a source of drinking water within three years because the lake never was intended for that purpose. About 3 million Atlantans now get their drinking water from the lake.

Joe Cook, executive director and riverkeeper at the Coosa River Basin Initiative, said environmental groups had urged conservation for years.

"All of these water conservation measures that we should have implemented several years ago are now getting a serious look," he said.

Georgia Sen. Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, a member of the state's newly appointed Special Subcommittee on Adequate Water Supply, would not comment specifically on how the ruling had affected the state's plans. But he said planners need to know what access the state will have to its largest reservoir.

"It seems obvious to me that the first thing we need is some kind of agreement on Lake Lanier," said Sen. Hill, whose district is near the Georgia coast.

The opinion piece by the Coosa River Basin Initiative describes Gov. Sonny Perdue as being "long criticized by the state's environmental community for his lukewarm embrace of serious water conservation measures."

Gov. Perdue's spokesman, Bert Brantley, defended his boss and said the judge's ruling was "certainly not a good thing" for the state. He said the ruling would lead to tough choices if the decision stood but agreed it could lead to good results if Georgia works out its water disputes with Florida and Alabama and if Congress solves the region's water issues.

"But those things haven't happened yet," he said.

He said the governor has urged conservation, such as a goal he set in October 2007, to reduce water usage by 10 percent. The state exceeded the goal, reducing usage by as much as 18 percent or 20 percent in some months during water restrictions.

Sen. Hill said conservation certainly should be part of the state's water plans, and said new regulations from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division already were enforcing conservation guidelines in some areas.

This weekend, the state temporarily is repealing sales tax on water-efficient products for the second year, according to a release from the governor's office.

Mr. Brantley said that in meetings conservation groups, including the Coosa River Basin Initiative, all agreed that conservation is still important even though the drought has ended.

Mr. Cook said state officials seem bent on building reservoirs and taking water from the Tennessee River, but reducing demand is a better solution.

"They're missing the boat here because you can gain the same water through water conservation," he said.