Rearranging the dirt, so to speak

In a recent editorial we cited a report that Ralph Lancaster, the Supreme Court-appointed special master overseeing the water-use court battle between Georgia and Florida, had suggested “importing” water into the Chattahoochee.

Or, as the already familiar and controversial practice is known, interbasin transfers (IBTs).

A Monday piece by David Pendered on the Georgia business web journal The Saporta Report offers some additional perspective on why more IBTs not only won’t solve the problem but are a really bad idea.

As we noted in the earlier editorial, Alabama is already threatening to file its own suit if Georgia considers an IBT from a river that flows into Alabama. (The Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basin’s headwaters are in northwest Georgia.) That would mean, if nothing else, more drawn-out litigation.

More importantly, Pendered cites a 2010 report by the Georgia Water Coalition which concludes that IBTs have unintended consequences, almost always negative ones, on downstream waters. The GWC’s bottom line: “Interbasin transfers are harming Georgia’s rivers.”

The flow rate through the Flint during dry spells had fallen almost 60 percent since the 1970s, as much as half of that attributable to IBTs from the Flint.

Closer to home — too close, in fact: As of 2008, the largest volume of water transferred from Georgia’s 14 major basins to other systems came from … the Chattahoochee. (According to the state Environmental Protection Division, 52.6 million gallons of Chattahoochee water was transferred in 2008 to the Ocmulgee alone. That doesn’t count Hooch water transferred to the Coosa, Flint and Oconee.

Pendered’s blog invokes the principle of the tragedy of the commons: “A shared resource can be depleted due to overuse by individuals looking to their own self-interest. As in a village’s common area where farmers let their livestock graze until all the grass has been consumed — at which point no shared resource remains.”

It’s just shifting the same problem to different locations. Water that arrives anywhere has to have come from somewhere else.

First do no harm

Legislation has been proposed to address the growing problem of prescription pain medication abuse. State Sen. Rene Unterman, R-Buford, has introduced a bill that calls for, among other provisions, putting opioid prescriptions into a state database in the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. Doctors would be required to consult the state database before prescribing such pain remedies.

The Medical Association of Georgia has some concerns about that part of the legislation, as well it might: “Physicians should not be required to check the PDMP, the bill covers an impractical number of substances, and the penalties for physicians are unreasonable and punitive,” wrote MAG’s president, Dr. Steven M. Walsh, in a published statement.

There’s also this: While getting a handle on abuse of controlled-substance pain medication is literally a matter of life and death, the “pain” part of the argument can sometimes get overlooked. People who legitimately need relief from severe pain aren’t trying to get high. They’re trying, sometimes desperately, to get relief.