Water, water everywhere… but not a drop to drink

by Kit Dunlap, President/CEO, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce
Lake Lanier at full pool; boating and tourism on the rise but no drinking water to quench our thirst?

Of the 660 miles of Lake Lanier shoreline, 420 miles are located in Hall County. We have a big stake in the future of this vital

Could we be in such a situation in Gainesville- Hall County in the future? Living next to a lake at full pool level, 1071 feet, yet having no future drinking water supply?

The State of Georgia Water Situation
Water has certainly been on everyone’s mind with the worst drought in Georgia history, particularly in North Georgia, only a little over a year ago. Our Lake Lanier was some 20 feet below full pool with area parks and boat ramps closing due to safety risks and low lake levels. Lake businesses and services were closing down due to water conditions and the effects of a downward spiraling economy. Visitors to Lake Lanier were down over a million. A true economic crisis.

Law suits over the use of water between the states of Georgia, Alabama and Florida have led to Governor Perdue’s four-prong approach:

1. Appeal – Appeal the ruling of Judge Magnuson , July 2009, that water in Lake Lanier is not to be used for drinking water. This has been appealed.

2. Congressional Action – Reauthorization of Lake Lanier for drinking water use. Not much at all has happened on this level.

3. Negotiation – Negotiation between the three Governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida. These negotiations are ongoing as I write this article. All three of these governors are leaving office in January 2011 and have stated they would like to have something done by the time they leave office.

4. Contingency Plan – A plan that we must have in place should restrictions on use of water from Lake Lanier come into place. In the 2010 Legislature, the Governor’s Water Bill contains water conservation measures and legislation to further develop reservoirs and other water supplies. We cannot conserve enough water to guarantee our water supply for the future, as this process takes years to permit, finance, and build reservoirs.

It is imperative that our community works towards each of these four initiatives outlined by Governor Perdue. Gainesville-Hall County has been a part of the 15-county Metro North Georgia Water Planning District since 2001 and is striving to constantly improve our water issues as a region. I currently serve as chairman of this planning group that focuses on Water Conservation, Water Quantity and Quality, Stormwater Management and Wastewater Management. The group has done a great job in a short time, but these efforts alone are not enough.
The 1071 Coalition was formed in 2008 to focus attention on Lake Lanier, seek a full 1071 water level and highlight the economic impact of Lake Lanier to surrounding counties, the Metro Atlanta region and to the State of Georgia. An Economic Impact Analysis of Lake Lanier was commissioned, is now complete, and seeks to provide a vital tool for use by leaders and officials dealing with water issues. The study will show the economic impact of Lake Lanier when full and when at extreme low levels and review the economics of Lake Lanier recreation, residential and commercial real estate, drinking power and power generation. As we are already aware, Lake Lanier is one of the most important economic engines for Gainesville-Hall County and Georgia. The results of the study will be made at the first public meeting to be scheduled in the near future.
Locally, the City of Gainesville and Hall County are seeking to solve short and long term water supply needs. The Cedar Creek Reservoir, built with Hall County SPLOST dollars, will help with short term water needs, while the Glade Farm Reservoir will be the future water supply. Our governments have water conservation measures in place and consistently try to educate citizens on the need to conserve water. The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce has offered to find an independent facilitator to work with the City of Gainesville and Hall County to come to equitable solutions that presently have stalled the progress of moving forward for future water supplies.
As we enjoy our full Lake Lanier this summer, remain thankful for the rain, have faith in our government leaders, and continue to support our business leaders as we work together on this important issue. We will have success, and our future will be secure with plenty of water for drinking in the future … and for boating, swimming, playing and BUSINESS.