Georgia wilted in the arid throes of a record drought, the worst in more than a century. Scorching heat, record low rainfalls in historically wet regions and shrinking water supplies pushed most of the Southeast to the brink of dehydration. Meanwhile, Georgia was engaged in a pitched battle with Florida and Alabama over water rights to Lake Lanier.
As lake levels kept shrinking, and Gov. Sonny Perdue made a grand and futile show of praying for rain, participants from government, business, agriculture and (to a lesser degree because they weren’t invited) environmental advocacy groups came together to complete the state’s first water management plan, an effort that began in 2004, following a different drought, a five-year thirst.
The General Assembly adopted the plan during the 2008 session, and in 2009 it started raining again and lake levels returned to near normal. For the shortsighted and absentminded, the water problem was solved.
When it rains, there is ample water supply for a thirsty state. But Georgia is growing faster than rain can fall. So, environmental advocates, entrepreneurs and leaders from business and government are seeking solutions and considering different and varied options, including one that relies totally on rain and its storage, to meet Georgia’s water supply challenge.
Of course, we haven’t figured out yet how to increase the rainfall, nor have we figured out how to increase the attention span of the tap-turning populace. Everything is not OK.
Georgia experienced record-high average temperatures this past summer and much of the state experienced drought conditions, and the probability for another drought is high for 2011. This is terrible enough, and even more so because unless Georgia can strike a deal with Alabama and Florida by July 2012, Lake Lanier will be off limits as a source of drinking water, meaning 4 million area residents will be facing a 280-million-gallon-a-day deficit – all of this because in July 2009 U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that Atlanta’s withdrawals from Lanier were illegal – the lake was built to generate electricity, not supply drinking water.
With the judge’s deadline in mind, Perdue created the Water Contingency Task Force, who scrambled to make water supply recommendations, which became the basis for the Georgia Water Stewardship Act of 2010, passed during the last legislative session.
Conservation and efficiency measures are given their cursory due – encouraged, not mandated – in the law, which also creates something called the Joint Committee on Water Supply, whose primary duty seems to be analyzing the state’s reservoir system and concocting ways to finance additional reservoirs.
Two supply options that which have been discussed under the Gold Dome in recent years are not addressed in a significant way – desalination (an absurd consideration actually given some weight in the state water management plan), and rainwater harvesting.
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