Georgia’s new governor – Nathan Deal – has an ambitious plan: Georgia will finance and build new reservoirs to enhance municipal water supplies. What is less clear is where the projected $300 million in state funding will come from. The state is facing a $1.5 to $2 billion budget hole, the municipal bond market is teetering, and in this economic climate, utility revenue bonds are a non-starter.
The Deal administration is using the looming 2012 Magnuson deadline as a justification to move quickly on new reservoirs such as Glades Farm, Dawson Forest, Hard Labor Creek, and others that will take ten or more years to complete. In reality, the administration should be moving more quickly on two other fronts.
First, the state must get their interbasin transfer (IBT) policy language right to head-off additional intra-state and inter-state problems.
Second, the state must seal the deal on a water sharing agreement with Alabama and Florida. Deal has reportedly met twice with those states’ incoming governors, and former Gov. Sonny Perdue’s negotiators were apparently meeting “regularly” with their counter-parts. All three states have economic futures at stake and the closed-door discussions do little to encourage new economic development.
With these two items in hand – plus an aggressive commitment to reign in water demand through water conservation and efficiency – Georgia would be in a very strong position to request a Congressional reauthorization of Lake Lanier for municipal drinking water. As such, the state could avoid the fiscal and environmental costs of building unneeded new reservoirs.
Lake Lanier is the dancing elephant in the middle of the room, and most everybody believes a Congressional reauthorization is in the cards. Could that be one reason why Gwinnett County officials – who depend on Lake Lanier for all of their domestic water needs – passed on the opportunity to join in the Hard Labor Creek project?
If not new reservoirs, where should “new water supplies” come from? The Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) supports Congressional reauthorization of Lake Lanier for municipal water supply and encourages the Corps of Engineers to increase Lake Lanier’s storage capacity. Next, we can slowly begin evaluating new and old infrastructure issues one at a time. Additionally, we must ensure that all downstream communities – particularly in Georgia – have the tools and information they need to properly evaluate interbasin transfers. Read more about the GWC’s position on, and solutions for, the tri-state water war here.