Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Water wars - a mild domestic example

Rivers run across borders and often form borders. Water rights have always been a sore point between communities with shared access to sources, and the reduction of water supplies from alternative sources make the conflicts even more intense.

Here's a story from the Atlanta Journal Constitution about one such conflict currently playing out in the midst of the Southeast's record-breaking drought. Georgia and Alabama are at odds over water in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin. The Army Corps of Engineers is serving as the mediator in the argument.

This is one example of a social stressor that may become much more common if drought conditions settle on other regions in the U.S. It leaves me wondering if we'll begin to see such conflicts worked out in advance of actual crisis, when the parties are able to think more clearly than they'd be able to under pressure of a severe drought.

During a teleconference last week with representatives from both states, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials said they are considering a reduction in the amount of water released from Allatoona Lake by the end of this month — a move strongly opposed by Alabama.

In addition to concerns about having enough water for operations at power plants and pulp and paper mills, Alabama officials are worried dredging on the Alabama River, which gets some of its water from Allatoona, will have to stop if water levels get too low. The Corps is dredging the river to make room for barges serving mills and other manufacturers.

Allatoona, which provides drinking water for Cobb County and other northwest metro Atlanta communities, has dropped 6 1/2 feet since the beginning of August, and is now more than 11 feet below full. The low lake level has exacerbated problems with an algae bloom in the lake, leading to some odor and taste complaints about the drinking water.

The Corps, which owns and operates the federal reservoir, began releasing additional water from the lake in late July after Alabama complained of not receiving enough to mitigate effects from the historic drought. In the worst-case scenario, Corps estimates show Allatoona could reach a record low level by the end of the year.

This month, congressional delegations from Georgia and Alabama met separately with Army Secretary Pete Geren, the top Army official who oversees the Corps.

According to The Associated Press, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) said the additional releases from Allatoona must stop soon "or we're not going to have a lake. We're just going to have a mudhole."

Alabama officials contend metro Atlanta is getting more than its fair share of water.

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