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Wanted: Water to make gold
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My buddies in South Georgia had better watch out. Every time they read another headline about the Mother of All Droughts around Atlanta, they should check their well levels. Legalized water rustling may soon be in vogue.

The big-city mules are looking south again to slake their region’s thirst. Without new water sources, metro Atlanta and the mountains may be nearing the end of their development rope.

The ongoing drought, seriously affecting 70 of the state’s 159 counties, is a preview of a coming calamity. Suburbanites may soon pine for the days when only their lawn sprinklers were shut down. What will they say when the time comes - as it certainly will, with present dumb and dumber water policies - that laundry, dishwashing, baths, showers and toilet flushes will be strictly rationed?

Fortunately, Georgia has received a tiny reprieve to forestall going completely dry. The nosedive in the real estate market has caused developers to slow down. That delay might give us enough time to find leaders with a bit more foresight who understand that the current water shortage is not simply the result of an extended drought. Like overcrowded schools and hospitals, traffic congestion, and air pollution, the water drain is part of a bigger picture: unbridled growth, growth without thought, growth based solely on greed, growth because we have elected stupid and selfish people to govern us at the state level. What other state would tolerate an ignoramus legislative committee convening to deride the idea of global warming when the temperature outside is 104 in the shade and the annual rainfall deficit is heading toward the two-foot mark?

Of all the issues facing our growing state, ranging from health care to crime, none is more serious in the long term than water supply and quality. Yet most of the public most of the time takes water for granted. When rain falls for two days in a row, drought disappears from the news. Life goes on.

Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama sends a letter to Gov. Sonny Perdue complaining, in effect, that Georgia is once again plotting with the Corps of Engineers to hoard more water for development, and that part of that water rightfully belongs to Alabama.

"Please say it ain’t so," quips comedian Perdue, suggesting Gov. Riley ought to lighten up. And he does.

"I am relieved to see Georgia finally concede that the reservoirs and the water in them do not belong to Georgia. This is real progress," Gov. Riley responds jokingly to his Peach State pal. Hahaha. Meanwhile, the water table sinks lower. Our lakes begin to look like dying oases in a dust bowl. (Perdue has been promising since 2002 to "get together" with the governors of Alabama and Florida to settle the water dispute. Never happened.)

The press reports that state climatologist David Stooksbury says Georgia can expect a serious drought like the present one only once in a century. By my calculations, Mr. Stooksbury’s forecast means we won’t have a similar drought until sometime in 2400. We have already had two really bad dry spells in this young century.

A knowledgeable water scientist once explained to me that Atlanta may look from the air as if it is situated in a lush rain forest, but Albuquerque and other Southwestern cities actually have greater water resources than our capital city.

Even with their local water supplies exceeding Atlanta’s, those American desert towns pipe in much of their water to sustain growth. So, little buddies, you may see where this column is going.

If Atlanta and environs hope to continue their boom, they must pump in water from less developed reaches of the state. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Atlanta could become the Albuquerque of Dixie. No, it does not make sense, unless you’ve just started building shotgun houses in White County and discovered belatedly that snake-handling preachers do not know how to turn corn liquor into potable water.

What does make sense is this: Plan to avoid running out of water. Induce metro developers to stop stacking one subdivision next to another with houses on smaller and smaller lots. Look for less developed areas for new homes and office buildings. Plan, plan, plan. Consider how much development and how many people our resources and infrastructure can comfortably accommodate.

Georgians do not have to endure continued deterioration of our quality of life. We can nominate and elect a new breed of men and women. We can elect folks who think - and care.

You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, or e-mail:

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