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0108 PD: Atlanta drought

Baxter Black Published on 21 December 2007

The drought in the South made the news, not because North Carolina cattlemen’s pastures are drying up or Kentucky soybean crops are compromised, but because Atlanta is running out of tap water.

Atlanta is one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the U.S. Its biggest city water reservoir is Lake Lanier. The governor of Georgia is pleading, threatening and demanding the federal government (Army Corps of Engineers) to hold back water presently being released to protect an endangered mollusk downstream.

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Sound familiar? Does the name “short-nosed sucker” come to mind? In the spring of 2001 the federal government ruled that most all stored Klamath Lake irrigation water would be diverted to protect the endangered short-nosed sucker downriver. The devastation of the Oregon farming community of 50,000 was virtually ignored. It’s easy to be green when it isn’t personal. There’s probably not too many Atlantans who lost any sleep over the short-nosed sucker, but ask them what they think of the endangered mollusk in Lake Lanier.

We in rural America are very aware of the voracious demand for water by growing metropolises. Denver is buying up the farmers’ water rights along the Arkansas River. Los Angeles turned Bishop, California, into a dust bowl and is now seeking to dry up the Imperial Valley. Phoenix and Las Vegas continue to look for more ways to increase their share of the Colorado River.

At the same time, Colorado won’t allow any more dams in the mountains just west of Denver, the Sierra Club wants to drain Glen Canyon Lake, and Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and California rank high in the list of fastest-growing states. Flooding brings quick destruction (i.e., New Orleans); drought brings a slow death. The hottest, driest time in recent memory was the Dirty Thirties. Mass exodus of the Great Plains was the result. I don’t expect to see people emigrating from Atlanta. Maybe they will enact some water conservation methods, but regardless, I have no doubt the city will continue to grow in population and water use will increase.

It is also predictable that the bulk of the sacrifice to keep them afloat will be made by those folks miles away trying to make a living along tributaries that run in and out of Lake Lanier.

I sympathize with those elected officials who have to make the hard decisions necessary to keep civilization’s plumbing, electricity and highways functioning, but I remind them of William Jennings Bryan’s admonition when they start thinking it’s okay to sacrifice the agrarian community to keep the city’s cup full: “Burn down your cities and leave our farms and your cities will spring up again as if by magic; but destroy our farms, and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” PD

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