Georgia received some welcome news in the recent unanimous refusal by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals to hold a new hearing on the approved uses of Lake Lanier. Not surprisingly, the state of Alabama has said they will appeal to the United States Supreme Court. As a result, this issue — only one of many in the on-going water wars between Georgia, Alabama and Florida — will remain unsettled for at least the near future.
Disagreements with our neighboring states have become complex in nature, but are rooted in one simple fact: we all want to ensure that there is and will be enough water for our residents and businesses throughout our state — both today and in years to come.
It is important to understand that, even if the 11th Circuit’s ruling is upheld, and even if we are able to reach a favorable agreement with Alabama and Florida, we will need additional resources to prepare for future population growth, to support new business investment, and to ensure that we can meet the needs of all communities during periods of drought — something that is already a challenge today.
While Georgia is fortunate to average nearly 50 inches of rain in a normal year, drought conditions like those experienced in 157 of the state’s 159 counties this summer can quickly cause streams and lakes to run low, wells to go dry, and put coastal aquifers at risk for saltwater intrusion. Farmers cannot water crops, tourists cannot enjoy water-based activities, and some communities even run the risk of losing their drinking water supply. In short, the very quality of life we pride ourselves upon as Georgians – north, south and central - is threatened.
Through the leadership of elected, business and community leaders, Georgia has taken tremendous steps forward with regard to water planning and the Georgia Chamber has been proud to be a part of those efforts. We have put one of the nation’s most comprehensive conservation laws into place as well as a sound mechanism for statewide water planning. But conservation and planning alone will never fill the projected gap in supply. In addition to being good stewards, we must begin to capture more of the rainfall we receive.
Today, plans are in place to bring 16 new reservoirs on-line, projects made possible by a $300 million commitment from Gov. Deal and a new Georgia Chamber supported public-private funding option passed by the General Assembly that will allow these and other water supply and treatment projects to move forward. Opponents of some water-related projects will offer a passionate but groundless argument of why they should be stopped. They’ll seek to divide us by region, by politics, and by vocation but the need to address Georgia’s water supply needs has been borne out in studies for decades, and federal, state and local permitting and review processes will make sure we mitigate environmental impact while protecting downstream needs. Efforts to protect our aquifers, our downstream needs, our agricultural industry, our recreation and our natural resources can all prevail if we continue to work together.
As I’m writing this today, it is raining across Georgia, but who knows what the weeks ahead will bring. Let’s not let changes in the weather keep us from focusing on that one simple goal – making sure there is enough water for us all in the future.
Chris Clark is president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.