Reservations about reservoirs: Bentley should be cautious
Gov. Robert Bentley has been in office only a few weeks, but his stance on the frustrating tri-state water war saga is spot-on.
Bentley wants Alabama, Georgia and Florida to return — quickly — to the negotiating table. That would be a wise decision.
In the meantime, remember that this page noted a few weeks ago how Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal seemed to be taking a more realistic approach to the decade-old controversy over how much water metro Atlanta and northeast Georgia can draw from streams that flow into its neighbors.
Our lone reservation concerned Deal’s plan to build more reservoirs in his state. If the holding pools collect water from rivers that flow into Alabama — the Coosa, Tallapoosa and Chattahoochee — the reservoirs could be as potentially harmful to Alabama as the improper withdrawal Atlanta has made from Lake Lanier.
Put simply, if Georgia collected water and held it during the summer drought months, that would make things even worse for the human and natural environments downstream. A reduced flow would mean the rivers’ natural cleansing could not take place, pollution and silt would concentrate, fish and plants would be threatened, and the water quality in general would suffer.
Moreover, a reduced flow from Georgia would cause lake levels to drop and the recreational economy in and around those areas would suffer.
Deal has included $46 million for reservoir development in his proposed budget, the first installment in what he says will be a $300 million commitment to stabilize and meet the state’s water needs. That is a big chunk of money at a time when Georgia is furloughing teachers and trimming almost every aspect of state spending.
Some in Georgia feel the reservoir system, combined with the state’s water conservation legislation and a statewide water plan, could make it appear that Georgia is serious about solving its water problems and strengthen the state’s position if its case goes before the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, even downstream Georgians have reservations about the idea and have said they would support it only if a majority (perhaps as high as 85 percent) of the water taken from the streams was treated and returned to the streams.
That goal will be difficult to reach if most of the water withdrawn is used for drinking. Bentley has expressed reservations about the reservoir plan, as well he should.
The reservoir plan offers little positive for the people of Alabama. If it is undertaken, it will take close and careful monitoring to make sure that Georgia does not disrupt the critical downstream flow. Bentley should continue to oppose this plan until its goals are clear, its impact is understood, the environmental concerns are dealt with to the satisfaction of all, and guarantees are in place to assure Georgia’s compliance.
Even then, the governor should proceed with caution.