Saturday, October 20, 2007

Georgia Governor Declares State of Emergency Due to Drought

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency in most of Georgia on Saturday, and called on President Bush to recognize that the historic drought had created a disaster for 85 counties.

In a defiant plea Saturday at Lake Lanier, Perdue asked Bush to issue a federal disaster designation that would:

• Empower the president to order less water released from Lake Lanier.

• Make federal funds available to state and local governments.

• Offer low-interest loans to Georgia businesses hurt by the drought.

"We will continue to conserve," the governor said, "but we have to have help."

Perdue's actions came as the federal government continued to release water from Lake Lanier to protect endangered mussels in Florida at the expense of water-starved North Georgia.

The governor, lieutenant governor, two congressmen and several legislators and state officials gathered at the top of a trio of now-landlocked boat ramps at Lake Lanier to deride the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife for "putting mussels in front of people."

They also accused the federal agencies of endangering one of the country's most populated areas, which is seeing its drinking water disappear down the Chattahoochee River for the Gulf of Mexico.

Perdue's state of emergency declaration and request of a federal disaster declaration are the latest tactics in the escalating war between Georgia and the federal government over how much water can be released from Lake Lanier.

"The actions of the Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service are not only irresponsible, they are downright dangerous," Perdue said at Saturday's news conference at Mary Alice Park, just yards from the retreating lake.

"If the Corps and the Fish and Wildlife Service do not act now, I will hold them fully responsible for endangering the people of Georgia. Any harm that comes to humans is 100 percent on their hands."

Perdue said he had asked for the federal disaster designation because "we need the president to cut through the tangle of unnecessary bureaucracy to manage our resources prudently so that, in the long term, all species may have access to clean water."

Until now, Georgia's efforts to ride out the dry spell and a shrinking water source have focused on conservation. But Perdue insisted conservation was not enough.

Georgia on Friday filed a federal lawsuit in Jacksonville, asking the court to force the Corps to reduce releases from Lake Lanier until March 1.

"We are experiencing the single worst drought in Georgia history," Perdue said. "On top of that, we are mired in a manmade disaster of federal bureaucracy."

Officials estimate Lake Lanier will be at the "dead pool level" within 80 days. At that point, also known as the "bottom of the conservation pool," the water level will be below pipes used to remove the water. Special equipment will be needed to retrieve it.

"Is there water in there that can be use? Yes. But it's not high quality," said Carol Couch, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

That water will contain more sediment and minerals, some of which are difficult to remove, and likely will have a different taste and color even after treatment, Couch said.

Col. Byron Jorns — head of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Mobile District, which oversees Lake Lanier — insisted the Atlanta area is not at immediate risk of running out of drinking water.

"There is water available for the drinking water needs of metro Atlanta for the next several months and well beyond," Jorns said. "The bottom of the conservation pool does not mean the bottom of the lake."

"That water is still available. In terms of folks going thirsty, that is an event that is well into the future."