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John Douglas - 07/24/09

Water ruling defies logic, common sense

For the past 20 years, Georgia, Florida and Alabama have been locked in a "water war" over the Chattahoochee River. The river rises in Georgia, creates Lake Lanier behind Buford Dam and then flows to Columbus where it becomes the state boundary for Georgia and Alabama as it moves south. When it merges with the Flint River where those two states and Florida come together, it becomes the Apalachicola River and flows across the Florida panhandle and into the Gulf of Mexico.

Georgia says the water of Lake Lanier is needed to sustain the population of north Georgia; Florida says freshwater is needed to sustain sturgeon and mussels along their portion of the river and in Apalachicola Bay. Alabama, already with one of America's largest rivers, the Tennessee, wants to draw water out of the Chattahoochee as it flows along the state boundary.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson, sitting in a Florida courtroom, ruled that Georgia has no right to the water of Lake Lanier and if a settlement isn't reached by Congress in three years, the taps to north Georgia will be turned off and tough luck to us all.

"Thus ... only Gainesville and Buford will be allowed to withdraw water from the lake," Magnuson said in a 97-page order. "The court recognizes that this is a draconian result. It is, however, the only result that recognizes how far the operation of the Buford [Dam] project has strayed from the original authorization."

"Draconian" is the understatement of the year. This ruling defies common sense. There is absolutely no other source of water for the metro area that can take the place of Lake Lanier. Regardless of the original intent of the lake, the fact remains that nearly 5 million people and the economic engine of the Southeast depend on the lake for drinking water. The judge acknowledges that fact and then ignores it in his ruling. For an unelected bureaucrat to dictate a threat to shut the water off almost entirely is an abuse of power and must be appealed.

In the meantime, the people of this state should remember that it was Florida that brought this suit and it is Florida that is the big winner in the decision. I would hope all of us would keep that in mind when planning a vacation and avoid Florida and spending our dollars there. I hope also that the powers at UGA are watching as the Jacksonville contract for the UGA-University of Florida game is up for renewal. Let Florida play the game anywhere they want when they are the home team, but get the game out of Florida when UGA is hosting it. Money talks and the merchants of Jacksonville can thank their state government and the mussels in Apalachicola Bay when they enjoy a dead weekend every other year at the end of October. Meanwhile, we can sure use the tax dollars here in Georgia generated by the rivalry, especially if we are going to have to find an alternative water source for north Georgia.

Sen. John Douglas serves as chairman of the Veterans, Military and Homeland Security Committee. He represents the 17th Senate District which includes Newton County and portions of Henry, Rockdale, Spalding and Walton counties. He may be reached by phone at 404.656.0503 or by e-mail a john.douglas@senate.ga.gov