Left out to dry
Corps asked to release less water from Lanier

ATLANTA - The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday asking for a reduction in the water released from Lake Lanier each day.

The amount of water released is more than two times the amount needed by the metro Atlanta population, said Sam A. Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

"We as businesses are saying, 'You're letting a billion gallons of water a day out of Lake Lanier and the metro area needs less than 5 million. You don't need to do that in a severe drought,'" Williams said at a press conference. "It's just based on common sense."

Lisa Coghlan, spokeswoman for the Corps of Engineers office in Mobile, Ala., said the corps had no comment about the chamber's letter.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has also requested the Corps of Engineers alter its operation plans so that it releases less water from Lake Lanier. The Gwinnett County Water Resources Department is in agreement with the state's beliefs, said Frank Stephens, the department's spokesman on the issue.

"It would help the region and it would help north Georgia if they would pull back on the releases," Stephens said.

The Corps of Engineers is required by the Endangered Species Act to release a certain amount of water from Lake Lanier, a federal reservoir, to support the spawning of gulf sturgeon in the Apalachicola River and to protect several species of mussels in the Apalachicola Bay. The Chattahoochee River, which was dammed to create Lake Lanier, flows into the Apalachicola River, which is located in northwestern Florida.

The amount of water the Corps of Engineers must release is in question by some, with many of the answers being tied up in litigation.

"I think the corps has a lot more flexibility than they would lead us to believe," Williams said, adding that the Apalachicola River receives more than 3 billion gallons of water a day.

"We question whether that's a valid priority compared to the 5 million people living in metro Atlanta," he said.

While the current drought is of concern, Williams said, the chamber is more worried about the state in another decade or two. If the area continues to grow by a million people per decade as anticipated, Williams said it could have a significant impact on the metro area's ability to attract businesses and workers unless changes are made by the Corps of Engineers.

"Under the current management program, we couldn't survive as an economy," Williams said.

In addition to more-responsible water releases by the Corps of Engineers, Williams said several other important steps should be taken by the region:

' Aggressively conserve water by reducing demand by up to 13 percent.

' Build new reservoirs. Metro Atlanta is relying on water from its two reserves, Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier, Williams said.

"We're the largest city in America dependent upon the smallest river, with the fewest number of reservoirs," Williams said.

' Recycle highly treated wastewater. Williams referred to the F. Wayne Hill Water Resources Center in Gwinnett as the best wastewater treatment facility in the nation.

' Push Congress to reallocate water storage from power generation to water supply uses on Lake Allatoona and Lake Lanier.

' Improve the water grid throughout the Atlanta region.