Will Georgia Solve Its Water Problems?

When compared with others the answer appears to be – not anytime soon.

Yesterday California Governor Jerry Brown announced a bold $24 billion water plan and last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack warned that the United States is experiencing the worst drought in 25 years. High temperatures and lack of rain is, “the most serious situation we’ve had, probably, in 25 years, across the country,” Vilsack said. “Sixty-one percent of landmass of the United States is currently being characterized as being impacted by this drought.”

Yes I’m known as the Sewer Mayor but the truth is water is just as much a part of Atlanta’s sewer story. Becoming more educated about sewer and waste water during my first term as mayor due to the federal mandate to fix Atlanta’s sewer system — offered me lots of opportunity to learn about water issues from storm water management to drinking water challenges in Atlanta and Georgia.

Don’t let the recent frequent rain fool you. Praying for frequent rain is not a long term solution to Atlanta’s and Georgia’s water problem. When it rains everyday for periods of time, we must remember extended droughts take years to overcome. Georgia needs long term solutions for water to sustain continued economic growth.

Georgia’s population growth – 3.4 million in 1950 and 9.8 million today – with no change in drinking water sources and few significant water conservation measures in the public sector stretch our natural resources. Businesses like Delta Air Lines and the Coca-Cola Company have made investments in water conservation as part of their green and smart business initiatives but few Georgians believe behavioral adjustments are needed unless government mandates them.

When the City of Atlanta tried to impose outdoor water restrictions a few years ago the state legislature passed legislation to restrict the city’s authority. Conserving water for essential uses wasn’t a high priority then and it seems it still is not. For all the talk about transportation these days it seems we are forgetting about an essential element of growth in our city, state, and region.

Last week Sally Bethea of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeepers weighed in on the issue. You can read her guest column on the Saporta Report, but here are a few paragraphs that caught our attention:

An excellent report recently released by the national nonprofit organization American Rivers confirms the financial and water resource risks that have moved reservoirs to the bottom of the list of water supply options.

The report notes that Georgia reservoir proposals on the drawing boards could collectively cost at least $10 billion, resulting in local governments going underwater with debt.  Click here to read: “Money Pit: The High Cost and High Risk of Water Supply Reservoirs in the Southeast.”

We agree with the Metro Chamber that Atlanta’s economy must be restarted with bold moves to show we are looking forward, and not backward.

Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is helping lead the way with specific recommendations to reduce the region’s water footprint in our “Filling the Water Gap” report – an annual update on water conservation successes and missed opportunities in metro Atlanta. (And look for our 2012 update later this summer at: http://www.chattahoochee.org./