Mike Klein Online

Tri-State Water War: Deal Dings Florida, Barnes Suggests Down Under

Not surprisingly, business themes dominated the conversation when gubernatorial candidates Roy Barnes and Nathan Deal addressed a sold-out luncheon audience Wednesday at The Commerce Club in downtown Atlanta.  This article will focus on discussion of the tri-state water wars.  Later articles will discuss their comments on education, transportation and health care.

There was also a touch of humor Wednesday when moderator Jeff Hullinger asked the candidates how to help Georgia Bulldogs football coach Mark Richt.  But more on that later.

Georgia, Alabama and Florida are at odds over water that flows through Georgia to the two other states.  The issue has been in litigation for several years and in dispute for decades.  Currently, the three states are under a federal court order to resolve their water war within two years or the issue will be settled in Congress.  A federal judge has ruled that Atlanta cannot use Lake Lanier as its water supply and that is the central part of what this argument is all about.

Deal, who served nine terms as a Republican congressman, said Georgia’s water crisis is not likely to be favorably solved in Washington until governors in the three states demonstrate they can create the solution.  With an eye on Florida participation in water talks, Deal said, “Quite frankly, I don’t think they have been very engaged in the process.”

Deal has proposed construction of four or perhaps five new reservoirs across north Georgia,  dredging Lake Lanier which has lost about 18% capacity due to silt, new investment to repair aging water systems, continuation of new conservation measures and returning more treated water to river basins.

“In the short term Georgia needs to do everything we can,” Deal said.  “The starting point was conservation legislation the General Assembly passed this year.  If we’ve done these things and time runs out on us, and we have to go back to the court and ask for either an extension or an alternative ruling on the original issue, we’ve at least shown clean hands, we’ve done what we can do in the time frame we’ve been given.  It is a multiple approach that we have to take.”

Barnes, the former Democratic governor who wants his old job back,  said, “We don’t have anything to negotiate with.  What are we going to give up?  We’ve lost the case.  This idea that, you know, all the governors  are going to hold hands and sing kumbayah and its going to be settled, it’s fantasy.   We have to show, before this matter is ever resolved, we have to show that we can solve it ourselves without having to beg Florida or Alabama.”

During his first administration that ended in January 2003 Barnes proposed creation and funding for 17 reservoirs positioned across north and west Georgia.  That plan did not go forward under Governor Sonny Perdue.   Barnes said aging water systems lose between 15% and 40% due to leaks.  Rebuilding local water systems will cost hundreds of millions of dollars and process will be lengthy, many years.  He believes it is partially, a state responsibility and Barnes says this project is too large for communities to go it alone.

Like Deal, Barnes proposed expansion of existing reservoirs.  The former governor described himself as “intrigued” by underground water storage, similar to how Florida stores fresh water.  He said expanding aquifers likely would not require the same federal approval process that is associated with new reservoir construction.

On a lighter note, moderator Jeff Hullinger closed the luncheon by asking both candidates if they had any advice for UGA football coach Mark Richt.  Only Barnes answered, and with his own question:  “Is Vince Dooley still alive?”

Mike Klein writes about contemporary issues as Editor at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

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October 1, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , ,

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