It’s hard to get excited about water in Macon-Bibb County. We mean that in a positive way. When the rest of the state was parched because of weeks without rainfall, we hardly batted an eye, even in the midst of a declared Level 1 Drought Response imposed on Nov. 17, by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for 58 counties, including Macon-Bibb. Why were residents so nonchalant even though the declaration put some restrictions on water use?
We’ve have had some very forward looking leaders in the area. One such man was long-time chairman of the Macon Water Authority Frank Amerson. Because of his visionary leadership, Macon-Bibb County has a resource that makes it the envy of other communities: The 589-acre Javors Lucas Lake, that serves as the MWA’s reservoir. Even after the Level 1 Drought declaration was made, according to the MWA, it had 3.9 billion gallons of water in the reservoir and its levels were trending up.
That’s good news. But not all of the news about water in the state is good. The water wars that have been waged since Joe Frank Harris was governor over the Chattahoochee River, between Georgia, Florida and Alabama are still being fought — now in the hands of a special master appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Florida says Georgia is using too much water to fuel the growth of Atlanta and the state’s agriculture industry at the expense of its Apalachicola Bay oyster industry and wants a cap on how much water Georgia can extract.
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Gov. Deal in his first comments about the ongoing trial that is slated to end today, reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, said earlier in the week that Georgia has made great strides in conservation. Metro Atlanta, according to data from the governor’s office, is “withdrawing 10 percent less water over the past decade despite growing by more than 1 million people,” the AJC reported. Georgia says Florida is at fault for its ecological problems in Apalachicola Bay.
Georgia has also pointed to other conservation efforts that have reduced per capita water use by about 30 percent over the past decade:
▪ 110,000 retrofitted toilets that save more than 900 million gallons of water annually.
▪ Leak detection programs
▪ New pricing system for water use
▪ Aggressive water use monitoring
Aside from the cost of the conservation efforts, the legal fees have also added up, just this year, to more than $24 million. But that could only be the start of the costs, particularly if the special master’s decision runs afoul of Georgia and caps are placed on how much water the state can pull out for agricultural use. Farmers in South Georgia would take a big hit. Deal said the limits on water use could be a “disaster for agriculture.”
And while is it’s hard for Macon-Bibb County residents to get concerned about water, it’s not too difficult to get riled up about the plight of the agriculture industry. According to the Georgia Farm Bureau:
▪ Agriculture contributes approximately $74.35 billion annually to Georgia's economy
▪ The 2014 total Farm Gate Value for the state was $14 billion.
▪ One in seven Georgians works in agriculture, forestry or related fields
▪ In 2012, there were 42,257 farms in Georgia encompassing 9,620,836 acres of land
Georgia is the No. 1 state in the nation in the production of peanuts, broilers (chickens), pecans, rye, and spring onions. Georgia is also at or near the top when it comes to cotton, watermelon, peaches, eggs, blueberries, sweet corn, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions, cantaloupes and cabbage. Producers across the state raise cattle, horses, goats, sheep, hogs, poultry, turkeys and alligators.
We will be keeping a close eye on the special master’s decision and while the 27 year water war may soon come to an end — just like any war — there will be winners and losers.