Last week, U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson issued a court order regarding a fairly obscure procedural change in the decades-old tri-state litigation concerning Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
The change, which related to the sequencing of issues to be litigated, had no bearing on the substantive issues to be decided. By noon, however, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley had issued a press statement interpreting the court's action as a victory for Alabama. Shortly thereafter, the Associated Press posted a story that began, "Georgia suffered another setback in its water feud with Alabama and Florida" that ended with Riley's press statement. This story and others like it ran in various other newspapers throughout the southeastern United States.
This example highlights the way in which our downstream neighbors have attempted to influence the court of public opinion in hopes of securing a favorable outcome in the tri-state litigation. The metro Atlanta region, in contrast, has taken a different approach. We have countered sound bites with clarifications, and we have used such opportunities to educate people on the facts. The facts begin with one, simple undeniable point: the contested waters of Lake Lanier are fed by the Chattahoochee River, and the Chattahoochee River is fed from headwaters that begin in Georgia from rain that falls upon Georgia soil.
Florida and Alabama are quick to point out that Buford Dam, the dam authorized by Congress in 1946 that created Lake Lanier, was built using federal dollars. This may be true, but the use of federal dollars does not deny Georgia the reasonable use of water that flows through its territory. Last time I checked, Georgians have federal rights, too.
Florida and Alabama like to go a step further, characterizing metro Atlanta's water use as unreasonable in relation to the needs of downstream users. Once again, this is pure politics. The reality is that metro Atlanta's water use amounts to just one to two percent of the flow of the Apalachicola River at the Florida state line. That equates to a reduction in flow of less than two inches - two inches - in a river subject to daily fluctuations of more than two feet. Further, our region has the most aggressive conservation plan in the state and, for that matter, within the basins we share with Florida and Alabama.
Lastly, we come to the matter of the original authorized purpose of the reservoir. Florida and Alabama contend that water supply for metro Atlanta was not an authorized purpose for which Lake Lanier was built. Again, the facts tell a different story.
Numerous historical documents, including letters from Atlanta's revered Mayor William B. Hartsfield, Sen. Richard B. Russell and others make it clear that Lake Lanier was located where it is - just above Atlanta - specifically to "assure an adequate supply of water for municipal and industrial purposes in the Atlanta metropolitan area."
This quote, incidentally, was taken from a report that was submitted by the Army Corps of Engineers to Congress to justify the authorization of Lake Lanier in 1946. My hope is that the judge is paying closer attention to these facts and less to the sensational efforts of Florida and Alabama spin doctors.
Charles "Chick" Krautler is the director of the Atlanta Regional Commission. Find out more about the ARC at www.atlantaregional.com.