Last week, Georgians celebrated a congressional victory that will move forward a highly touted project to deepen the Savannah Harbor, a $400 million project expected to not only increase trade but boost jobs in the state.
But the passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act in the House of Representatives also included an overlooked but key success for Lake Lanier in Georgia’s water wars with Alabama and Florida, said Congressman Rob Woodall.
“We are unwilling to trade families in Gwinnett County for oysters in Appalachicola Bay,” Woodall said of the conflict, which involves having enough water, especially in drought years, for Atlanta’s growth, farming interests in Alabama and environmental concerns in Florida.
The state’s House delegation was able to have wording in the legislation removed that would have given Congress the power to divvy up the water that the three states have argued about for two decades. Woodall said the move was key, after victories in court over the past year have given Georgia’s drinking water usage more weight in the allocation of the water.
“If we allowed Congress to come in and start rewriting the rules, it would hurt the entire metro Atlanta area,” said Woodall, who represents much of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, from Alabama, added the language to the Senate version of the bill, and Woodall said Georgia’s senators had some luck in altering it. While the two versions of the bill must be debated in a conference committee, Woodall said the strong vote in the House means that version will likely win out.
“Gwinnett County in particular has done so much in terms of water conservation,” Woodall said, noting the county’s expensive under taking to build a plant and pipes to return treated wastewater to the lake. “If you let the federal government start picking winners and losers … they will in other cases.”