Neely Young: Whipped By Water?

Despite the devastating floods in Sep-tember, we still have a water crisis in Georgia. Just last summer a federal judge issued an opin-ion in the 20-year dispute with Alabama and Florida and ruled Atlanta’s use of water from Lake Lanier “is not an authorized purpose.”

Now another ruling expected from a federal judge in Alabama, involving Lake Allatoona, could have a similar effect on Cobb County, whose 600,000 residents receive roughly 45 percent of their water from that Army Corps of Engineers lake – if the judge determines that drawing water from Allatoona is not “an authorized purpose.”

With these decisions, our neighbors to the west and south have will have won the water wars and whipped us like a tied up goat.

A fresh water supply is critical to our economy. Without adequate drinking water, growth will stop, and Georgia will miss out on any economic recovery. Gov. Sonny Perdue realizes he could leave a terrible legacy when he retires from office next year.

To quote Florida State University football coach Bobby Bowden: “After you retire, there’s only one big event left.” So Perdue is marshaling all his energy to fight the ruling, including a legal challenge (highly unlikely to succeed), a meeting with Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama and Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida to work out a compromise (why would they?) and a major effort to fight the battle in Congress.

The long drought that preceeded last month’s heavy rains emphasized our vulnerability. Lake Allatoona, which almost avoided drought conditions, was still three feet lower than full pool just short weeks before the rains began, and Cobb County had a rain deficit.

The Conasauga River was drier in 2008 than it was 2007. The Savannah, Altamaha, Flint and Chattahoochee rivers were below historic averages.

Yet a recent report from the Atlanta Regional Commission projects that Metro Atlanta will add 3 million people and 1.6 million jobs by the year 2040. That will come from adding almost 100,000 people each year from 2010-2020, roughly 92,000 each year between 2020-2030 and about 88,000 annually from 2030-2040.

Florida has experienced its first drop in population in more than 100 years. The New York Times reports that the recession is forcing many people to move to other states, including Georgia and North Carolina. So south and middle Georgia should continue to show population growth.

When the next drought comes – and it will – where will we find drinking water for all of these people? Over the next few months, Georgia Trend will explore some options.

For example, north Georgia has a number of large underground caves and caverns where water could be pumped and stored for later use. Another solution is to purchase water from the Tennessee River.

Another proposal would be to use the kind of desalination process used in World War II, during the blitz in England. The British bound barges together and set up a desal plant to convert brackish water (not salt water) in the Thames River and provide fresh water to Londoners.

Desalination plants have often been considered too expensive, with even a small system costing $50 million or more. The solution would be to use desalination trucks similar to those used to provide fresh water to U.S. troops during the Gulf War. Desal can be mounted anywhere, and the trucks would only cost around $8 million each. The new fresh water could be converted to ice, and then trucked to storage sites north of a city where it would later enter the river and be recycled back as a supplement to the city’s water system.

Desal plants for salt water could be established on Georgia’s coast to convert salt water into fresh water to be pumped through a pipeline to cities such as Statesboro and other south Georgia cities that are experiencing problems with salt water showing up in their water supply. Desalinated water from the coast could be piped to Atlanta.

Water is a state issue, not just an Atlanta issue. Many other Georgia cities draw their water from nearby Corps of Engineers lakes. All of the proposed solutions will involve raising taxes or charging additional fees to citizens. Let’s see if our state and regional leaders have the will required to solve the problem.

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