Opinion Forum

Infinite growth, Finite water

Hidden behind the mind-numbing technical detail and protestations about being "fair" to all lies the ugly core truth of the "state water plan" that will be debated in the Legislature in January: The primary point is to legalize piping water to metro Atlanta from downstream areas. A burglar in your house or an embezzler in your bank account will steal your economic future. That’s what the "state water plan" may ultimately do to downstream communities: steal their economic futures by taking the water the future depends upon.

The beginning of wisdom is to call a thing by its right name. Unless downstreamers unite and fight, what’s coming is theft, pure and simple — the great metro Atlanta water theft.

Water can’t be piped to metro Atlanta now because Georgia is a "riparian rights" state — folks along a river and above an aquifer have the right to use the water reasonably; distant areas have no right to it at all. But the Legislature can change that, and the Atlanta growth industry has been working for years to legalize piping water to Atlanta.

At one time the plan was to pipe water from the Tennessee River at Chattanooga, but the state of Tennessee nixed that. Then they tried to pass "permit trading" in the Legislature — to make water a private commodity to be bought and sold, which would legalize transfers to metro Atlanta. In 2003 over 180 downstream cities, counties and development authorities passed resolutions against permit trading and killed the bill. So then they came up with this "state water plan" idea. No matter how the plan is eventually gussied up, its primary purpose will be to legalize piping to metro Atlanta.

That interbasin piping of water from distant rivers and aquifers to metro Atlanta will be allowed by the state water plan cannot be denied: The Georgia Environmental Protection Division director admits the planned policy will allow piping from one area of the state to another, and Atlanta’s mayor and an executive of the Atlanta Regional Commission propose that desalinization plants be built on the coast so Georgians there can drink desalted seawater and let metro Atlanta pipe in water from the Savannah and Altamaha rivers.

Proponents of piping water from downstream rivers and aquifers try to mask their intent behind high-minded talk about requiring conservation first, before interbasin piping is allowed. But when taking downstreamers’ water is legalized, there will be no incentive to conserve. Unbelievable amounts of water are wasted in metro Atlanta now; even leaky pipes aren’t fixed because it’s cheaper just to treat and pump more water. No amount of conservation can prevent the need for more water for metro Atlanta so long as growth there is unending. Infinite growth but finite water is a prescription for a mess, and taking water from downstreamers is Atlanta’s only way out unless its growth is managed.

For years, those desperate to find new sources of water for metro Atlanta have misled citizens by playing word games. "Interbasin transfers" have been allowed for a long time, they say, and piping water from distant rivers or aquifers is just another "interbasin transfer."

That’s a fraud. Unless we call a thing what it is, we can neither think about it clearly nor oppose it. When Atlanta’s water system takes water from the Chattahoochee and pumps it over in to the Flint River basin, that is an "interbasin transfer." But the "transfer" is simply incidental to the geography of the Atlanta water system and involves relatively minimal amounts of water. Massive piping for dozens or hundreds of miles of enough water to keep metro Atlanta’s boom going is a whole different thing.

This is the Big Fight in Georgia. Whether interbasin piping is allowed will determine, forever, growth patterns in this state, the economic futures of all downstream communities, and what kind of rivers and streams we will leave to our descendants.

All downstreamers and anyone interested in preserving what’s left of our waters should be bitterly opposed to interbasin piping. There are really very few Georgians who benefit from moving water to metro Atlanta. Folks who live there are fed up with rampant growth and the mess it has created.

Downstream communities want growth. Let the growth go to the water, not the other way around.

On Tuesday, May 29 the "Water Council" working on the state water plan will have a town hall meeting from 6 to 8 at Columbus State University’s Founders Hall, 4225 University Avenue. All interested citizens are encouraged to attend and ask questions.

Any statewide water plan that is "fair" to all will mandate no new interbasin transfers and no interbasin piping at all. Giving EPD authority to approve interbasin piping will endanger all downstreamers, because water will then ultimately flow to power and money, which means to metro Atlanta.

For directions to the Town Hall meeting on the State Water Plan, see www.georgiawatercouncil.org/documents/town_hall. For more information see www.gwf.org/gawater or contact Dorothy McDaniel at 706-987-4346.