Two Remaining Pieces To The Atlanta Drought Puzzle

Why a water crisis in Atlanta now? The cause is not climate alone, as Lloyd's post of today points out. Runaway growth - Georgia is the fastest growing US state east of the Rocky Mountains - and a seeming refusal to plan for the future seem to have been the other key factors.

Ah, but even the Grey Lady at her investigative best seems to have missed two key additional factors that, without some understanding, will keep long term solutions at bay.

Some of the water withdrawn from North Atlanta's Lake Lanier is truly "consumed": lost to evaporation, transpiration, or included in industrial products (like Gatorade or Coca Cola). What is the fate of the non-evaporated wastewater? One big answer:- Every day, many hundreds of millions of gallons of sewerage plant effluent pour into the Chattahoochee River, mostly downstream of Lake Lanier. Low-flow periods associated with heat and drought give the river the lowest possible assimilative capacity. But, such periods also give turd wrestlers (sewage plant operators) the best possible circumstances in which to meet permit limits, pumping out the cleanest possible effluents. Do it right and one man's effluent is another man's raw material. Manage the sewage plants for optimum performance, and up the natural assimilative capacity downstream of Lanier with additional reservoirs or withdrawal structures, and the river can be re-born as a resource for potable water.

Note: We chose not to focus on the extent to which existing sewerage treatment plants in the Atlanta area are meeting effluent discharge limits. That's a non-productive topic unless and until the second piece is addressed: why have no downstream reservoirs been built to supply the growing water needs of Atlanta's southern suburbs?

The states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia, along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, have been at odds over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin for 17 years...

The last plan was written when Georgia had a population of 6.4 million people. Since that time, the state has been the fastest growing east of the Rockies and has a population of about 9 million today. Most are concentrated in the Atlanta area, where a majority of the water comes from the Chattahoochee River.

But what made the three states such bitter enemies in the quest for water?

In the mid-1980s, Gov. Joe Frank Harris appointed a Growth Strategies Commission to make recommendations for the state’s future.

The commission, headed by Peachtree City businessman Joel Cowan, recommended during the 1986-88 drought that the state construct additional reservoirs to meet future water needs.

Seventeen years ago Georgia considered a plan recommendation for 15 regional reservoirs in the state. "The first reservoir was to be built in Haralson County near the Alabama border. That reservoir became the basis of Alabama’s first lawsuit against Georgia in federal court."

Even then, eyes in surrounding states were on the prize of economic development: downstream states may have sensed that "If they could hold us up on water, they could hold us up on bringing industry into the state that they might have a shot at."

If this subject interests you, now would be a good time to look over the three drought scenarios we came up with for Atlanta area, starting with this link.

Via::The Gainsville Times, "Genesis: Tri-state water wars kicked off 17 years ago", Image credit::Google Satellite image, Lake Lanier Outlet Structure and Dam.

Tags: Alabama | Drought | Florida