Drought more menacing, but it gets less mention

It’s the truth….
We would like to thank Dan Chapman and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for reminding people of this disaster in the making.
After reading this be sure to check the Drought Files, coverage of the Southeast Drought beginning October 11, 2007.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Sunday, November 02, 2008

Drought? What drought? The rains still haven’t come. Lake Lanier drops ever lower. And Georgia’s water wars with Florida and Alabama slog along.

Yet last fall’s doomsday water scenarios have disappeared from newspaper front pages and state officials’ lips. Instead, this fall, Georgians are consumed with the financial crisis, the presidential election and gas prices.

Meanwhile, the new year promises Year Four of the drought that has fundamentally affected the way North Georgians live.

“In any of the discussions about the election, what are you hearing about water?” Sam Olens, chairman of the Atlanta Regional Commission, asked last week. “There’s a malaise, an indifference, a feeling that we’ll wake up one day and Lake Lanier will be full.”

Last fall, Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency and banned virtually all outdoor watering. He also ordered North Georgia to reduce water usage by 10 percent.

Some success ensued. North Georgians used 18 percent less water in September than they did a year earlier, according to Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division.

Still, Lake Lanier, the region’s main water source, is 18 feet below full pool – a dangerously low level for a reservoir of water that downstream Georgia, Florida and Alabama also covet. David Stooksbury, the state’s climatologist, said that most of North Georgia’s stream, river and lake levels have dropped below last year’s already anemic levels.

“We’re in the throes of a drought that’s never been seen in history,” Jack Dozier, executive director of the Georgia Association of Water Professionals, said during Wednesday’s 2008 Cobb County Development Symposium. “And it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Dozier, Olens and others lamented the state, regional and federal response to the water “crisis.” Perdue and the General Assembly’s embrace earlier this year of a statewide water plan came under particular attack.

Perdue pledged, and later rescinded due to the state’s budget troubles, $40 million to expedite reservoir construction. But that was a paltry sum, according to Olens, considering that the nearly complete Hickory Log Creek Dam and Reservoir in Canton cost $100 million.

Cobb County is covering three-fourths of the cost and will receive a comparable percentage of the reservoir’s water.

“There’s total denial from the state’s perspective. They clearly don’t think we have a water problem,” said Olens, also chairman of the Cobb County Commission. “I’m sorry, but I’m not going to sit here and talk about a water plan that isn’t.”

Outdoor watering remains restricted across metro Atlanta.

“Conservation is working; the data proves it,” said EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers. “And public awareness has been heightened over the past year. That means we’re doing our job.”

Metro Atlanta officials also blame Alabama and Florida for North Georgia’s water woes. Georgia’s neighbors counter that Congress didn’t intend for the federally controlled Lake Lanier to serve as Atlanta’s water supply. The two states want more Chattahoochee River water for economic and environmental uses.

Alabama is also suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over the Hickory Log Creek project. The reservoir is being filled largely with water from the Etowah River, which feeds into the Coosa River and flows into Alabama. A decision could come early next year.

Glenn Page, general manager of the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority, likened Alabama’s lawsuit to “a gnat.”

“It’s there, and you know it’s there, but there hasn’t been a valid reason to stop building [Hickory Log],” Page said after the Marietta symposium.

“Alabama just doesn’t want us to have more water, period.”

The lengthy legal challenge won’t keep Hickory Log from completion early next year. The 400-acre reservoir in Canton is expected to one day alleviate Cobb’s water worries. But it may not help anytime soon.

Filling the reservoir will take longer than expected. The Etowah, according to the state climatologist, is flowing at its lowest level in 80 years of record-keeping. Hickory Log may not be filled until late 2010, Page said.

“Get used to the brown yards,” he said. “They’ll stay that way for a long time.”


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