It’s a complicated, seemingly never-ending dispute that includes the Army Corps of Engineers, endangered species of fish and other wildlife, Atlanta’s insatiable thirst and the seafood rich waters of Apalachicola Bay.
The Corps of Engineers operates reservoirs in Georgia at Lake Lanier and Lake Altoona. The Corps claims the authority to regulate how much water the city of Atlanta can take from Lake Lanier for drinking purposes. Folks on this side of the Alabama line say they can’t take any, that the original authorization for the development of the lake didn’t include that usage. Instead, it was built to provide hydroelectric power, and recreational use.
Atlanta’s sipping Lake Lanier water for drinking means that the Chattahoochee River, which flows out of the lake, is reduced. That means the Apalachicola River’s flow is reduced and that means the bay, known for generations as the source of all manner of fish, oysters and shrimp, is damaged.
It’s not hard to see why the folks in south Alabama and the Florida Panhandle are upset with Georgia’s position that Atlanta can simply take whatever water it wants from Lake Lanier.
Closer to home, much of the same arguments apply to Lake Altoona. It was built by the Corps of Engineers to enhance navigation, for power generation, for flood control. It was not built as a giant water fountain for Atlanta. But there are some in Georgia and Atlanta who want to use Altoona as a backup in case their claim to Lake Lanier is thwarted.
Lake Altoona is closer to home because it eventually turns into the Coosa River, which flows through Alabama and provides the waters for Logan Martin Lake in St. Clair County. The Coosa is also the source of Neely Henry Lake near Gadsden, Lay Lake and Lake Mitchell as it makes its way to Montgomery where it merges with the Tallapoosa to form the Alabama River, which flows into the Mobile Bay Basin.
Eventually, any reduction in water flow on the Georgia side of the border, could have an adverse impact all the way to Mobile Bay.
In our state, Alabama Power Co. manages these lakes and the dams that provide the hydroelectric water source. Mike Godfrey, a manager with the power company, spoke last week to the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association meeting.
Godfrey couldn’t be specific about the future of this dispute. No one can, with all the parties to it all too eager to head to U.S. Circuit Court to challenge any use they don’t like.
He was asked for his “worst case scenario” prediction. And, he said he really couldn’t say, as it is really a matter of opinion.
“We could be in the worst-case scenario now. Or they (court officials) could decide to let Georgia take as much water as they want. But I think there will be a compromise somewhere,” Godfrey said.
Let’s hope for the compromise.
We don’t want to see Atlanta shrivel up for lack of water. But neither do we believe Atlanta’s thirst should be slacked by sacrifice from the people and marine life of Alabama and Florida.
Atlanta’s rapid growth is one of the biggest factors in this dispute and we believe that means it is incumbent upon Atlanta to lead the way to a reasonable solution. That means Atlanta should pay for the solution, and it means that just because it is a big city it cannot just ignore the needs of its neighbors to the south.
At the same time, we recognize that Alabama and Florida should do more than simply scream “No” to Atlanta’s needs. It seems to us we as states do have the right to determine what an effective and fair rate of water flow works for us. Anything above that should be negotiable with Georgia, so long as there are mechanisms to see those flow rates hold steady in the years ahead.
Someone once cast this dispute as a fight between the human beings in Georgia and the fish in Alabama and Florida. Nothing could be further from the truth. As we have too often seen in the past, when we ignore the needs of our environment and the wildlife that inhabits it, we eventually penalize the humans who depend on that environment.
The compromise noted by Godfrey is what is needed for a fair solution to this problem. Let’s hope the three states involved will focus their efforts in that regard instead of more and more court challenges.