BY MARC EGGERS – Access North Georgia

GAINESVILLE – The City of Gainesville, in conjunction with Brenau University’s Sustainability Task Force, hosted a panel discussion Tuesday afternoon entitled “Tri-State Water Wars” as part of the annual World Water Day observance.

The panel was comprised of representatives from area governments and others concerned about water-related issues. The event was held at Brenau’s Thurmond McRae Auditorium

World Water Day started in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development.

The theme for World Water Day 2011: “Water for the Cities.”

Brenau President Dr. Ed Schrader, an active environmentalist and trained geologist, set the tone for the discussion by stating that there is ample water, it just needs the right management.

“The fresh water that does fall on the continent is sufficient to supply the current ecosystems, human and non-human, for centuries and millennia to come,” Schrader said. “The trouble is it doesn’t always fall where and when you want it.”

Schrader encouraged panel members and all in attendance to push for common ground and the implementation of sound water management.

Brenau Professor of Physical Science Dr. Rudi Kiefer said the disadvantage Lake Lanier had to contend with was having the “smallest drainage basin (for replenishing water that passes through the lake) in the county that feeds a lake which supplies water for a major metropolitan area.”

Kiefer said rain that falls in nearby locations does not necessarily end up in Lake Lanier. Rainfall in Lula, the parking lot at Dawsonville Outlets, and at Johnson High School, for instance, does not end up in Lanier.

Gainesville Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall and his Hall County counterpart, Ken Rearden, both agreed on the importance of moving forward with the Glades Reservoir. Randall carefully explained that contrary to some published reports, Gainesville is not opposed to the Glades project.

During the discussion it was pointed out that the area’s concern for water management and its impact on our lives and economy actually predates – by over 36 years – the UN’s call for World Water Day. On Feb. 1, 1956, the gates of the intake structure at Buford Dam were closed and this area began conserving and managing water.

But with the population and economic growth experienced in the South since Lake Lanier began filling, the inherent need for water has grown as well; hence, the current disagreement among Georgia, Alabama and Florida regarding the use of water flowing down the Chattahoochee River and, for the most part, through Lake Lanier.

The issue is currently under review by the 11th Circuit U.S Court of Appeals where Georgia is asking that U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson’s 2009 ruling limiting Georgia’s use of water held in Lanier be overturned.

Atlanta Regional Commission Chief of Environmental Planning Pat Stevens said she was “cautiously optimistic” that the court would vacate Magnuson’s injunction and send the matter back to the courts.

“Our region is very unique,” Stevens said. “This is the only major metropolitan area I know of in the nation that has these strong water plans that are actually implemented by local government and enforced by the state.”

Water Policy Director Laura Hartt, of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said her group was not opposed to new water sources. She said they just wanted to make sure that current sources are being used to their full potential.

Hartt said her group advocates raising the level of existing reservoirs. She said raising Lake Lanier two feet would not only be cost effective but would be environmentally sound as well.

Also participating in the discussion and presenting his county’s point of view was Program Manager for Gwinnett County Water Resources Frank Stephens.