Saturday, February 2, 2008

Georgia drought: tension in the air about water

They held a public meeting was held about the water crisis in metro Atlanta. The conveners placed the meeting in Gainesville, next to Lake Lanier - the reservoir whose cracked, dry bottom has become the poster child for the lengthening drought. Present to address the current were officials from regional water planning, local development planning and the Atlanta area chamber of commerce. Harold Reheis, a planning consultant, quoted below, provided some straight talk about the situation.

For all the big guns of local policy who were there to speak and answer questions, it's a bit disappointing that only 125 people showed up as an audience. Maybe the feeling of powerlessness has taken over. Certainly one of the quotes published indicated the dissatisfaction with explanations that must be running through the community.

Reheis, former director of Georgia's Environmental Protection Division, forecast more drought in the future - if not an extension of the current one, then something as bad or worse in the future.

"There will be a worse drought," said Harold Reheis, who served as EPD director from 1991 to 2003. "I don’t know if it will be 10 years from now or 100 years, but it’s coming."
He also offered some tough love to those in regions outside of Atlanta who have complained that the metro area has been using more than its fair share of the limited supplies.
Reheis said he hopes the comprehensive plan will reduce the "paranoia" that the rest of Georgia seems to have about metro Atlanta. Some people accuse Atlanta of consuming more than its share of water.

"I hope there will be less whining, once all the facts are out there about how much water metro Atlanta actually uses," Reheis said.

He pointed out that Georgia law does not allow a community to withdraw so much water that it dries up a stream.

"Folks downstream need water, too," he said. "Some of our neighbor states don’t have that policy. Some of those states don’t regulate water withdrawal at all."

He said in Georgia, a municipal water source must be reliable enough to yield water even during a "drought of record." The state’s current drought is the new drought of record, so it is the standard by which new water sources will be measured.

"You’re going to have to build more and bigger reservoirs in the future," Reheis said.

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