Atlanta vs. everybody else 

'Two Georgia's' debate takes on new urgency in wake of water crisis

ALMOST THREE YEARS AGO, when I had an editorial published in the Atlanta Journal/Constitution (“Economy & environment form a team,” Dec. 20, 2004), little did I know how topical those remarks would become by 2007.

Thanks to extreme drought in combination with state officials’ continued neglect of water management, north Georgia faces a long-predicted water shortage that threatens all the state’s water resources.

Pragmatic growth constraints dismissed previously had better be reconsidered now, or more crises will follow.

Our commentary came as a result of cutbacks in water protection made by the General Assembly and DNR board in 2003 and 2004. Those cutbacks were at obvious odds with the governor’s then-current proposal to promote eco-tourism — dependent on good water quality and ample flow in Georgia’s rivers — but no one in state government seemed to understand this glaring contradiction.

Since then, Gov. Perdue has launched a massive “Go Fish” program, which was intended to bring abundant added recreational fishing revenues to Georgia. Meanwhile, despite multiple warnings about the need for water conservation, improved state energy policies, and growth management to curb water demand, leadership in the Capitol continued its wasteful plundering of state resources to support Atlanta’s rampant expansion.

Now these same “leaders” are pointing fingers everywhere but at themselves in laying blame for the water supply crisis. Since they are unwilling to admit their own fault in contributing to this crisis, there is little reason to hope for more responsible and accountable policies in the future.

Several news articles have reported that Georgia’s Go Fish program will have to be put on hold because of the water shortage. And many editorials around the state express grave concerns that influential Atlanta interests will grab water from everywhere else, depriving downstream water users of their legal rights, economic potential, and ecosystem health.

This all suggests the $64,000 question underlying this perennial debate:

Can Atlanta’s sprawl remain Georgia’s ever-growing & indulged pet behemoth while the state cultivates a nature-based tourism sector — including recreational fishing?

Willful neglect of Georgia’s natural resources in supporting untenable growth has come home to roost, and its talons are now firmly around the throat of Atlanta’s sprawling giant.

Meanwhile, the classic debate about “Two Georgias” has taken on new meaning, pitting Atlanta’s thirst against the rest of the state, especially rural areas and the coast, where environmental quality and nature itself are most treasured as a part of daily life.

If there is any hope of preserving Georgia’s natural splendor, Atlanta’s growth must be reined in, and decision-makers need to make the tough choices essential to living within the intrinsic limits of our shared environment.

More water cannot be bullied or engineered into existence, and neither more growth — nor any amount of private profits — cannot justify the destruction of our rivers and estuaries.

David A. Kyler is executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, a membership-supported non-profit organization serving the public interests of coastal Georgians and based in St. Simons Island.

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