Water: Our Economic Engine

Water: Our Economic Engine

by Chamber President/CEO Kit Dunlap

WATER… Contrary to some public perceptions, there is plenty of water for everyone if we manage this precious resource correctly. Georgia, on an average, gets some 50 inches of rain annually. Most of the time, there is plenty of water. In the last few weeks, we have had SOME rain, but too little water to fill up Lake Lanier.

As I write this article, Lake Lanier is about 10 feet below full pool. Full pool is 1071 feet. On October 27, Lake Lanier’s level was 1061.26. October is traditionally our driest month. Some say, Lake Lanier will go down at least another foot and a half. Some say we will have a wetter than usual winter. Who knows? Currently, a drought has been declared in Georgia, and water conservation measures are in place for all citizens.

What can we do to assure that future generations have plenty of water?
As we all know, Georgia is not entirely in control of its water destiny. The Federal Government has a great deal of influence over Georgia’s water and resources. The Army Corps of Engineers controls the releases of waters from the federal reservoirs, as they do with Lake Lanier at Buford Dam. The Corps is currently operating the reservoirs along the Chattahoochee River using an outdated water control plan that dates back over 50 years. Georgia’s efforts to have this water plan updated has been held up in Congress by our neighboring states, Alabama and Florida. The Federal Endangered Species Act has been used by federal judges to provide increased flows for an endangered fish and two mussel species. The tri-state (GA, Al, FL) water litigation was been going on for years in federal courts hampering Georgia’s water efforts.

Metro Atlanta’s growth (of which Gainesville and Hall County are a part) and water use is a legitimate issue when considering the future of our water resources. The region is now home to half the population of Georgia. It is estimated that 2.3 million MORE people will live in metro Atlanta by 2030. The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, created by the Georgia General Assembly in 2001, has been working hard to put in place a plan for water conservation that will meet the needs of our citizens for the future. Sixteen metro counties and some 100 municipalities have been working together and developing plans for water conservation and supply, stormwater and wastewater. The State of Georgia is working on a State Water Plan led by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. The first phase will be launched in 2007, and we will later see changes to existing water laws, regulations and policies.

No, we are not running out of water.
Georgia has abundant water resources, but water is not evenly distributed within the state, and neither is our population. The State of Georgia must optimize our water resources to provide water where it is needed for both our people and the environment. Our water must be managed correctly by the state, local municipalities and utilities, the Corps of Engineers and individual citizens.

Water is the most important issue impacting our future. Water issues are very complicated, very expensive and very political. Water is our economic engine. We must all work together to manage and share our water.

Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Kit Dunlap is Chairman of the 16-county Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.

About the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District
With a finite water resource and a population of nearly four million and growing, the need to carefully and cooperatively manage and protect Metropolitan Atlanta’s and Georgia’s rivers and streams has become a priority. The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District was signed into law in 2001 and developed regional and watershed specific plans for stormwater management, wastewater management and water supply and conservation in a 16-county area: Bartow, Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Coweta, DeKalb, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, Forsyth, Gwinnett, Hall, Henry, Paulding, Rockdale and Walton Counties.

Unlike other large metropolitan areas, Atlanta is not located on a major body of water. Limited water resources combined with the region’s growth places it in a unique position relative to other cities. The general purposes of the Water District are to establish policy, create plans, and promote intergovernmental coordination for all water issues in the district; to facilitate multi-jurisdictional water related projects; and to enhance access to funding for water related projects among local governments in the District area. It is the primary purpose of the District to develop regional and watershed-specific plans for storm-water management, waste-water treatment, water supply, water conservation, and the general protection of water quality, which plans will be implemented by local governments in the District. For more on the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District, visit www.northgeorgiawater.com