Georgia and a confederation of the thirsty

By now, you know about the federal judge’s ruling that metro Atlanta has no right to draw drinking water from Lake Lanier — and never has.

The giant economic engine of metro Atlanta, the centerpiece of the South’s magical, post-World War II transformation, has been founded on a poor legal assumption, Judge Paul Magnuson ruled.

If this half-century oversight isn’t fixed within another three years, the judge intends to shut off the flow of Lanier water to millions of faucets and toilets in metro Atlanta.

It should be noted that Magnuson came to this draconian conclusion — his words — in far-off Minnesota, the land of precisely 11,842 natural freshwater lakes. Georgia’s natural lakes can be counted by touching thumb to forefinger: zilch.

We are, in many ways, a green desert. In this state, lakes are man-made, created for specific purposes by the people who pay for them. In the case of Buford Dam, built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the purposes authorized by Congress were navigation, power generation and flood control.

The water behind Buford Dam was not collected so that you could do the laundry, the judge said. Not for dishwashers, bathtubs, lawn sprinklers, wading pools, dog dishes, cooking pots or iced tea. Not for the creation of Diet Cokes or beer or concrete.

The ruling was a stunning turn in a lethargic, 19-year fight between Georgia, Alabama, and Florida over the water that runs through the Chattahoochee. In one blow, the judge robbed Georgia of both legal footing and time.

Several reactions are worth noting. State Sen. John Douglas (R-Social Circle) said the state could regain leverage in water negotiations by moving the annual Georgia-Florida football game out of Jacksonville and into Georgia every other year.

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun of east Georgia, in a sublime display of solidarity, declared that an evil, thirsty metro Atlanta shouldn’t even think of slipping a straw into the Oconee or Savannah rivers.

Business leaders churned out their own metaphors. Failure to solve this thing, said Sam Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber, “would perhaps have a Katrina-sized effect on the metro economy.”

We will all be up on our roofs, holding signs for helicopters and CNN cameras: “No shower for three days,” or “Save us. Plenty of bourbon. No ice.”

Don’t laugh. Williams may have put his finger somewhere close to a solution.

In a basement ballroom in the Governor’s Mansion, Sonny Perdue last week gave a private PowerPoint presentation on Georgia’s legal predicament to 130 “stakeholders” — the corporate heads, developers, lobbyists, and political leaders invested in Georgia’s continued growth.

No, the lead lawyers had yet to be identified, Perdue said in response to a question from Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Yes, it might be time to back statewide incentives for water-saving toilets and such, the governor said.

Bright spots were pointed out: The judge’s decision could actually undercut Florida, which has based its case for water on the health of mollusks and sturgeon protected by endangered species legislation. Not navigation, power generation, or flood control.

Thirsty mollusks may have no more right to Lake Lanier water than thirsty humans.

To these stakeholders, to reporters outside, and in a telephone conference call with Georgia’s congressional delegation later that afternoon, Perdue insisted that it was fruitless to think he might reach an agreement with his fellow Republican governors in Alabama and Florida.

All three will be out the door in 2010. Charlie Crist of Florida is particularly disengaged — he’s in a race for the U.S. Senate.

Perdue has called for the battle to be carried to Congress, another arena where Georgia might feel outnumbered. But Perdue’s solution is to escalate the fight— to find other states that consider themselves under the thumb of an unresponsive Corps of Engineers, and form a confederation of the thirsty.

Publicly, members of Congress from Georgia are in a disciplined, bipartisan phalanx of agreement. “I personally very much like that idea,” said U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, the DeKalb County Democrat.

But privately, congressmen — even Republicans — are more skeptical about their ability to forge a solution acceptable to Congress that hasn’t already been ratified by the three states.

Time is an issue, too. Democrat John Lewis is expected to take the lead, but the congressman most experienced on water issues, Nathan Deal, is leaving to make a Republican run for governor.

The brightest spot in the judge’s ruling, one congressional source said, may be the deadline: July 2012.

Barack Obama will be in the midst of his re-election campaign. Which brings us back to Katrina— or rather, our anti-Katrina in the making.

Obama won’t want to antagonize Florida and its electoral votes. But neither will he want an economic catastrophe — the sight of metro Atlanta’s drying husk — on TV, day after day.

Republican presidential candidates won’t want to choose among Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, either. Florida’s primary is first, followed by the two others a week later. Better if water is off the table by then.

Gordian knots often require major events to slice through them. And a 2012 presidential contest may be the real confederation of the thirsty that Georgia needs.

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29 comments Add your comment


July 26th, 2009
3:10 pm

If Deal is so experienced in water issues, what has he done about it during his congressional tenure? Has he sponsored a bill? Worked with the Corp to set standards.

My man Ox will handle this like he handled customer service for the past 14 years..


July 26th, 2009
4:36 pm

While the cities/states and situations are entirely different, do not ever forget that Obama threw Detroit and the state of Michigan (a historically Democratic state) under the proverbial bus for the sole purpose of furthering his economic stimulus package. He will do the same to Atlanta and GA if politically expedient.

Get Real

July 26th, 2009
4:54 pm

Whats that GoOx, more questionable campaign donations? I’m voting for no republican, as we’ve seen where their overal leadership has been the last 7 years. Education, nothing. Transportation, nothing. Water, nothing. These are the most important issues facing our state and Georgia “leadership” has done nothing.

Cincy, what did Bush/Rove and Co. ever give Georgia other than a referendum on banning gay marriage? May sending our troops from bases around the state off to war, but thats it. We have a black president, get over it. He’s done nothing more out of the mainstream than the previous administration (outing CIA agents, torture). Stop listening to Glenn Beck and Hannity.


July 26th, 2009
5:20 pm

Get Real, you need to get real. The leaders aren’t great in both parties (nationally with Bush and Obama and locally with Perdue/Richardson and Porter). This governor’s election should be about people, not parties.

Ultimately, we should have a governor that will progress the state instead of just saying it. Ox and Deal both look promising and Barnes seems to have learned from experience about what to do and not do. All in all, between those three, we have a pretty good race for gov.


July 26th, 2009
6:48 pm

Get Real-I cannot abide Beck or Hannity…I voted for Obama! Do not assume you know how I come to my conclusions! Just pointing out the obvious.


July 27th, 2009
8:28 am

I should not be surprised that Leadership Perdue says it is “fruitless to think he might reach an agreement with his fellow Republican governors in Alabama and Florida.” Actually, Perdue I think it’s in the realm of possibility that you make every effort possible to reach an agreement without going to Congress. So, who cares that the 3 governors are out of office by 2010 (thank God that’s the case in Georgia – you’ve been no great shakes as a governor).

So typical of Republican (lack of …) leadership that you say you want big government out of our lives but at the first issue that seems a bit difficult, all of you look to that same big government to solve the problem. Can’t have it both ways.

Perdue, get busy and talk to those governors in Florida and Alabama to solve the water issues. Show some leadership in your final year so you won’t go down as the most spineless governor in Georgia.


July 27th, 2009
8:42 am

Why isn’t the AJC talking about Sonny Perdue being in Canada this morning? I heard it on GPB instead.

If the state is so broke, how do we have enough money to send Sonny on a junket to Canada?

Uncle Jessie

July 27th, 2009
10:21 am

Thirsty Confederates done got the answer. Same thing we does fer natural gas. Unlimited fresh water source not being used. Aquifers on coast, tap into them an pump it up hyar. Water line & gas line run side by side. Cheaper and easier than trying to build new reservoirs.


July 27th, 2009
10:36 am

Uncle Jessie, ain’t you heered? Them thar aquifers been overpumped and runnin’ out of fresh water, too.


July 27th, 2009
11:23 am

Eventually this will become a racial issue since Atlanta is majority black. As soon as some reporter points out that New Orleans, the only other large majority black city in the south was shortchanged by the corps and politicians before Katrina, things will begin to fall into place.


July 27th, 2009
11:42 am

Fight the war on two fronts. Start up the boundary talks with TN again. Create a pump storage facility on Top of Sand MT and then one on Lookout MT. Or Create a tunnel under Lookout MT. for a new interstate by-passing Chattanooga and run the pipeline up the center and down I-75. Use stimulas money to pay for it and create a ton of jobs for N. GA.


July 27th, 2009
12:10 pm


I think it is absurd that we must start boundry talks with Tennessee when the vast majority of the water in the Tennessee river comes from the Ga. mountains.

The Little Tennessee river begins in Wolfork valley in Rabun co. The Haiwassee river, Nottely river, and Toccoa river all flow north into Tennessee and feed the Tennessee river. Unfortunately all these rivers except the Little Tennessee feed TVA lakes.

So between the Corps of engineers and the TVA, Ga. basically has no control over the vast majority of the water falling on its own mountains.


July 27th, 2009
12:15 pm

Actually, “booger”, METRO Atlanta is majority white, and it is metro Atlanta, especially Cobb, Gwinnett and N. Fulton which are most strongly threatened by this ruling. (And even the city of Atlanta is not as majority Black as it was even a decade ago; by 2012, when the water deadline expires, there may not be any one ethnic majority in the city.)

So, if any Georgians are inclined to shrug and say that it’s just “a black problem”, look again.


July 27th, 2009
12:48 pm


I didn’t say METRO Atlanta, Just Atlanta. Atlanta is the city mentioned in the ruling, and it is Majotity Black.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe this is racial. I just think it is a strong suit which can be played before Congress, especially after Katrina. I fully understand which areas will be affected the most severly, but I also understand that if race were used to get Congress moving for Atlanta, they would not exempt the suburbs.


July 27th, 2009
1:12 pm

Sonny and his henchmen screw up again.When are people going to realize how bad they are at getting things done.Transportation,employment now water. Thanks Sonny


July 27th, 2009
2:14 pm


Yeah, I remember the good ole days under Roy when resevoirs were being bulit all over, the corps was eating out of his hand, and speed limit traffic was the rule of the day.


July 27th, 2009
5:03 pm

well How can you blame sonny this problem has been brewing for 19 years ?? had to be a couple of govenors before Sonny that had a chance to fix this and didnt get it done so don’t put all the blame on sonny. I agree he hasn’t been a great Govenor but you cant put all the blame for this on his back!


July 27th, 2009
5:11 pm

Well Folks Sonny isnt to blame this has been riding in the courts for 19 years sonny’s been govenor for 8? he can’t get all the blame for this. Yeah it’s comming to a head under him but it’s not totally his fault. here’s a novel IdEA . sINCE WE HAVE 3 YEARS BEFORE THE COURTS SHUT OFF THE WATER let’s identify an area & use the States Money & build our own reseviour North of Atlanta!! One the Feds cant touch, sure it will cost big bucks but what other options do we have?


July 27th, 2009
7:20 pm

This is what uncontrolled development and over-population lead to. This part of Georgia has a drainage system too small to support Atlanta. There are few alternatives indeed: the Flint is nearly dry; the Tuscaloosa formation aquifer has lost head pressure leading to salt water encroachment; and the Ocoee flows north. However, the Coosa and to limited degree the Etowah (since it is already managed by Allatoona) may be a good compromise; BUT the Coosa flows into AL at Weiss Lake.


July 27th, 2009
10:09 pm

Sonny is the one that told us that he being a Repub he could make a deal with the other 2 states.In eight years he has failed and water is at a crisis,transportation is a disaster,and unemployment is through the roof.Meanwhile Sonny and his henchmen continue to spin how they are taking care of us.

Chris Broe

July 28th, 2009
11:41 am

History tells us that folks revert to butcherin’ one another over water. This is too serious to take lightly. Just how are we gonna fool the Yankees again on this one? I gotta tell you something: I’m scared a dyin’ of thirst!

I’m scared a dyin’ of thirst!

Just the Facts

July 28th, 2009
11:52 am

Actually, Gov Barnes initiated a reservoir program and sited a first small state reservoir in Lumpkin County to train personnel and establish operating procedures while pushing for 404 permits for larger sites. Gov Perdue came in, sold the reservoir, and let DNR return the reservoir program (which they disliked) to zombie status. When Speaker Richardson pushed through the Water Supply Act of 2008 two years ago, Gov Perdue stripped the reservoir funding out from under it, and also stripped out the tax credit for water-saving appliances and fixtures. Now he says we need a tax credit for water-saving appliances and fixtures. Go figure. Yes, Georgia could always have done more, but no one has done less for water supply than Gov Perdue.

Aaron Burr V. Mexico

July 28th, 2009
4:10 pm

And who elected him and then RE elected him.

You get what you vote for, and probably will next year too.


July 29th, 2009
11:10 am

Why is Sonny Perdue the only one who thinks the governors shouldn’t talk to each other FIRST before going to Congress?

Jim Callihan

July 29th, 2009
11:12 am

Here’s what we get from Congress (the typical “we own it all – screw the states” mentality).

Read this proposed bill (S 787); note the “all intrastate waters” clause, as well as “ACOE waters”):

Resist tyranny.


July 29th, 2009
1:28 pm

With leaders like ours, who needs enemies?


July 30th, 2009
10:42 am

Water is water, so if you collect it in a barrel, dog dish, pond, ocean, lake…etc, how can you tell me which water molecule I can’t drink ? When it rains, which cloud is banned from dropping water in the lake? The Federal government stopped Ga. from tapping water from a river in Tenn. during our droughts and let millions and millions of illegals drink, bathe, wash their cars, waste water without enforcing the immigration laws, so who’s fought is it about the water level??? The Feds!!!


August 1st, 2009
10:10 am

Booger get out your map. Actually only the Ocoee (Toccoa to the Georgians) and the Conasauga (Jacks River to some) flows into Tennessee from Georgia. And the Conasauga flows back into North Georgia supplying Dalton and it’s area with water.

The Hiwassee collects from both Georgia and North Carolina including the Nottely. The Little Tennessee and all rivers north flow from North Carolina, and Tennessee itself, (although the Clinch River drains from Kentucky as well) and all feed into the TVA system.

[...] A federal judge ruled Atlanta has no right to take water from Lake Lanier. Florida and Alabama are ready to declare War on Georgia to save the (pretty gross) Chattahoochee River.  Our Governor is stepping up the rhetoric without offering any solutions, other than inflaming neighboring states and the federal government – and that sure seems the right way to build a consenus on this issue. [...]