Water conservation talks frustrate RIverkeepers

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Instead of celebrating an anniversary, Georgia Riverkeepers called on the state's gubernatorial candidates to end the tri-state water wars.

A year ago on Saturday, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that much of the metro Atlanta area that uses Lake Lanier for drinking water had no legal right to access the water from the manmade reservoir.

The judge said affected metro Atlanta users had three years to find an alternate water source. The only outs from chutting off the taps in metro Atlanta would be an agreement on use among Georgia, Alabama and Florida or Congress acting to officially change the purpose of Lanier's existence.

A year has ticked off that clock, but there has been no progress. With the three states' governors all set to leave office at the end of this year, there has been widespread speculation that the new gubernatorial administrations in the three states will have this issue fall into their laps when they take office in January 2011. By then the clock will be down to about 18 months for a resolution.

"The talks are at a standstill and it is very frustrating," said Gordon Rogers, Flint Riverkeeper. "There is a lack of any real progress and we have identified 14 stakeholders, like farmers, commercial and pleasure boaters and the recreation industry, that are not involved in the negotiations."

Three Riverkeeper groups with the support of Riverkeeper groups across the state held a news conference Thursday in Atlanta to insist that government officials resolve the water wars with Alabama and Florida to provide water for all of Georgia, not just Atlanta.

"Unless we change course soon, Georgia faces a major water security crisis in two years," said Sally Bethea Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. "Our next governor and state leaders must break the deadlock, which has marked the last 20 years of this conflict."

The Riverkeepers at the event also included Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus. Together the group offered a three-pronged plan:

-- Respect: That includes the right to enough clean water, a sustainable environment and a prosperous future must be shown for all downstream communities;

-- Reveal: The next governor and administration must reject secrecy and engage all stakeholders openly and fully in the negotiations;

-- Reduce: the next administration must commit to reducing metro Atlanta's demands on water through aggressive conservation and efficiency measures beyond the steps taken by the 2010 Legislature.

The Riverkeepers offered a more detailed written conservation plan to the next governor that included interbasin-transfer regulation; year-round, outdoor watering restrictions; high-efficiency industrial cooling systems, and other water saving measures.