Saturday marked one year since Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled in a lawsuit filed by Alabama and Florida that the Army Corps of Engineers exceeded their authority in allowing water withdrawals from Lake Lanier to meet the water supply needs of metro Atlanta’s 3.5 million residents. In his order, Judge Magnuson made it clear that the only way to meet the needs of the metro area is for Congress to authorize Lake Lanier for water supply. The judge stayed his ruling until 2012 to give Georgia time to seek that authorization.
As virtually everyone knows by now, the Magnuson ruling has serious implications not only for metro Atlanta, but for everyone in the state. A significant water deficit in metro Atlanta, which is a vital economic engine for our state, will negatively impact businesses and citizens across Georgia and the Southeast.
While that is certainly a disturbing thought, there is reason for optimism. Beginning long before the ruling last year, Georgia has worked hard to develop and implement effective water planning efforts. We have focused on encouraging a culture of conservation in Georgia and our citizens have responded to that call. We began comprehensive, statewide water planning initiatives more than six years ago, and recently I signed landmark water conservation legislation into law. In 2008, I launched Conserve Georgia, a statewide outreach campaign that includes water conservation as an important component.
Working closely with the Environmental Protection Division (EPD), 10 regional water councils created by the State Water Plan have met regularly
since early 2009 to discuss water resources, usage and challenges regarding supply and access. The councils are currently working to identify management practices to meet future needs. The EPD and the water councils expect to have the first regional water plans finished next year.
The recently enacted Water Stewardship Act asks Georgians to make an active commitment to water conservation, while at the same time providing incentives that encourage innovation and creativity among our water providers. The legislation prepares Georgia for future growth, protects water-sensitive industries and equips us with tools to navigate future water shortages caused by natural occurrences such as droughts.
Residents, businesses, schools and other organizations have proactively embraced a culture of conservation across the state. Water conservation is now a common and expected practice, even though Georgia is experiencing a normal rain pattern.
In the wake of Judge Magnuson’s ruling, I instituted a four-pronged response plan. We re-opened negotiations with Alabama and Florida to find a fair and equitable water-sharing solution, and those negotiations continue. I want to reassure Georgians that I am doing everything I can to reach agreement on a beneficial water sharing plan before leaving office early next year.
We have also appealed Judge Magnuson’s ruling, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit will soon hear our reasoned and logical arguments. And we have worked closely with our Congressional delegation in Washington DC to pursue Congressional authorization of Lake Lanier as a water-supply reservoir, and those efforts are still under way.
The Water Stewardship Act, the State Water Plan, regional water planning and the efforts of Georgia residents and business leaders to conserve is the culmination of hard work and active collaboration among the state’s leadership, as well as our agriculture, business, water supply and conservation communities.
That same level of collaboration will be key as we continue the tri-state negotiations, appeal the judge’s ruling and seek Congressional authorization.
By continuing to pull together, we will ensure that all Georgians have access to a safe and plentiful water supply.
Sonny Perdue is the governor of Georgia.