Water, Georgia's Balancing Act
Lindsey Thomas, Former U.S. Congressman
March 11, 2010

Lindsey Thomas
Lindsey Thomas

We inherited a healthy and bountiful environment when we began the settlement and development of Georgia. Water was plentiful and in many instances thought to be inexhaustible. As we have grown and developed into a modern society we have ratcheted up our needs and put increasing pressure on many of the components of our natural resources, especially water.

We capitalized on what was abundant and cheap. And now we’ve come to the painful realization that we have to manage and invest more wisely in the resources that have served as the foundation of our growth and development.

As we begin to look to our future, and the role water will play in it, it is imperative that we come to some basic understanding of the issue and what we need to consider as we move forward.

First, we must recognize that it is the natural geology, geography and climate that provides the stage upon which the water issue is played out:
  1. The northern part of the state, including metro-Atlanta, is dependent, for the most part, on surface water gathered from systems that gather the annual rainfall.
  2. The southern portion of our state enjoys vast supplies of pure underground water from the underlying aquifer systems.
  3. In years of adequate rainfall our systems can not only provide adequate water for existing needs in the northern part of the state, they can also deliver the needed downstream flow that sustains the surface and sub-surface needs of the southern part of the state. 
  4. In periods of drought, the natural supply and system come under increasing pressure relative to the length and severity of the drought.
  5. These natural systems are affected directly by something we have little ability to predict or even control; not just the amount of rainfall but the pattern in which it falls.
Second, we must understand that when our needs exceed what the natural process can provide, it becomes necessary to augment those systems with man-made structures. Rather than viewing these structures as inherently damaging, we should see them as components to a modern and scientific process of wisely utilizing and augmenting our natural systems.

Third, as we go forward, we must see water as a holistic issue in our state. We must realize that while there are regional practices that might differ in wisely managing our water there are no islands within our water budget that can be completely isolated and not impacted from upstream practices or uses. The issue of Lake Lanier, even as important as it is, the hoped for solution to our problems with Florida and Alabama, the use of reservoirs and conservation, among others, must be seen as components and not the whole solution to Georgia’s water challenge.

Fourth, we must understand that taking the politics out of the picture is not attainable. The challenge is to get everyone properly informed on the issues; our representative system of government will take care of the rest.

The decisions our elected leaders make now will determine to a great part what kind of state we are going to have and what kind of state we leave to future generations. Perhaps no other issue has the ability to affect so much of our economy and our natural environment and resources as does the water issue. If we do not do the responsible thing and balance our concerns and solutions, we will likely do great damage to the economy or our environment. I do not believe this is necessary or inevitable.

About the Author
Lindsay Thomas made his first foray into the political arena in 1982 and was elected to represent the First Congressional District in the United States Congress. He was elected to his fifth and final term in Congress by a margin of over 70 percent. After completing ten years in Congress, Thomas returned to Georgia to take the position of State Director of Governmental Affairs for the Atlanta Olympic Committee which organized and directed the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. He then served for six years as president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and then moved on to AGL Resources in 2002 where he was Senior Vice President, Governmental Relations. Now retired, Thomas serves on the board of The Nature Conservancy, The University of Georgia Press, and The Georgia Chamber of Commerce. He was awarded the J.W. Fanning Leadership Award by the Leadership Georgia Organization and the Zell Miller Public Policy Leadership Award by the Georgia Economic Developers Association.
© 2009 - 2014 Georgia Municipal Association