THE ISSUE: Water crisis in the Southeast

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 28, 2007

This week the governors of Alabama, Florida and Georgia will meet in Washington to hammer out a compromise over water rights.

Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue wants the federal government to save water in Lake Lanier, a reservoir operated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, instead of sending it downstream to Georgia and Florida. If the government doesn’t take action, says Perdue, residents of Atlanta soon won’t have any water to drink.

Alabama Gov. Bob Riley has responded, saying Georgia can’t shut off the water supply, but he’s willing to compromise if the other two states will share fairly.

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The harsh words that have flowed back and forth seem reminiscent of the water wars in California at the turn of the 20th century when Los Angeles diverted water from the farmers of Owens Valley so the City of Angels could grow.

This modern-day tug of war among the three Southeastern states dates back about a generation. But as the summer heat has grown more oppressive and the rainfall just hasn’t materialized, the last two years have thrown the area into a crisis mode.

Fifty percent of the Southeastern U.S. is labeled as in &8220;extreme&8221; drought and 31 percent of that is listed as exceptional, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. There’s not much relief in sight, according to extended forecasts. Indeed, conditions seem ripe for a dry, mild winter in the region.

It appears that the states in our regions have no real plans for water conservation or to deal with times of drought. Certainly our leaders have ordered cutbacks in usage. But they haven’t taken specific measures to ensure their residents &045; the rest of us &045; won’t be thrown into a crisis.

Instead of battling over water rights, the governors of these three states should sit down, work on a compromise to alleviate the current debacle, and then move quickly to establish a regional plan for water conservation and management.

If that calls for appointing a commission or a mediator, then the states need to move quickly to take action.