Florida not being very neighborly with water

As I drove out of my neighborhood this week, my neighbor's yard was yet another stark reminder of what the draining of Lake Lanier is doing to our state. The neighbor, who always had a full annual flower bed, had decided not to plant this year. And lawns that are normally bright green in the summer have begun turning brown.

Yet another neighbor owns a small business that is now threatened with bankruptcy as a result of the extremely low levels. My neighbors are good and kind people who are more than willing to pitch in where they can, offering to mow the lawn for someone who is ill or share the missing ingredient for a recipe. When one neighbor is hurting, others rush in to help.

The truth is that Georgia has been a good neighbor to Florida. Georgians have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into Florida's tourism industry. I am certain we all know many families who plan an annual summer trip to Disney or the Florida beaches. When destructive hurricanes hit Florida, volunteers from Georgia rushed in to help rebuild and offered relief to those who were affected. And - for many years - we have willingly offered hundreds of millions of gallons of water to flow from Lake Lanier to the state of Florida. All this water so that our Florida neighbors can keep a rare species of mussel exceptionally healthy in the Florida bay.

Therefore, it is simply outrageous that when our entire state is suffering from an excessive drought that Florida would choose to respond by doing everything possible to drain Lake Lanier. In fact, Florida has just decided to sue the U.S. Corps of Engineers on the basis that three species of mussels will be threatened. The shellfish that Florida claims are threatened survived just fine for many years before Lake Lanier was ever built.

I find it unconscionable that the state of Florida would choose to elevate the water needs of the bankclimber and fat threeridge mussel over the needs of millions of human beings in Georgia.

The state of Georgia has been exceptionally patient with the state of Florida in discussions over water flows from the Chattahoochee basin into Apalachicola bay. Gov. Sonny Perdue deserves a medal of commendation for staying at the table and convincing his counterparts in Florida and Alabama that each state benefits from a negotiated solution.

However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that when it comes to the Chattahoochee basin, our good friends in Florida will do everything possible to keep draining Lake Lanier into the Gulf of Mexico. Personally, I'm starting to realize how Charlie Brown feels when Lucy keeps convincing him to kick a football and then pulls it away at the last minute again and again.

Recently, we received a new operating plan from the Corps that offers Georgia very little good news in terms of reducing flows from Lake Lanier. Even this baby step toward protecting Lanier resulted in Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist blasting the new plan as putting "the economic and environmental future of an entire region at risk." Crist has it right, but the region being put at risk is North Georgia, not the Florida panhandle.

Crist's entire case rests on the argument that draining Lake Lanier represents the best way to keep a rare species of mussel healthy. No human beings in Florida will see their jobs lost, the value of their homes destroyed or their drinking water supply threatened if flows into the bay are reduced.

In Georgia, on the other hand, a shrinking Lake Lanier chokes our economy, forces hundreds of small businesses to the brink of bankruptcy, destroys the value of family homes, drains downstream reservoirs like West Point Lake and puts our ability to supply safe drinking water to one of the world's largest cities in question.

I realize Florida has to look after its interests, but why would any state want to do this to one of its neighbors? The answer to this question may have a lot more to do with politics than it does with the health of humans, or for that matter, the health of mussels.

The reality is this: Georgia is one of Florida's top competitors for new jobs, and I will guarantee you that business recruiters in Florida are using Georgia's water crisis to their advantage every day. On top of that, Gov. Crist clearly has his eye on national politics and believes that sticking up for those Apalchicolan shellfish represents will boost his credentials as a "green Republican."

A good neighbor recognizes the needs of others and offers to lend a hand. As we have experienced this drought, Florida has instead decided to slap our hand and Georgians should start responding. The state of Georgia has done its part to be a good neighbor to Florida, it is time Florida reciprocates.

Casey Cagle is the lieutenant governor of the state of Georgia. Contact him via his Web site at http://ltgov.georgia.gov.