Well, well, well. All of a sudden, seemingly overnight, Atlanta officials and big dogs from the Georgia Legislature are realizing that the South is in a prolonged and severe drought and that Atlanta may soon run out of water.
Wow. Who could ever imagine that the aging infrastructure put in place by Georgians following Reconstruction would ever need updating? Two weeks ago, when the Corps of Engineers announced that the major source of drinking water for the city, Lake Lanier, was down to a 90-day supply, city officials suddenly began expressing concern.
I won't even get into whose fault it is. For the last 45 years administration after administration ran for and obtained public office in Atlanta, only to grandstand, posture, draw a nice salary, meet in posh and exorbitantly furnished chambers and occasionally go to jail for their illegal activities.
Now it's time to pay the price for all the years of grandstanding while neglecting to take care of business. But the modus operandi or standard procedure for any elected Atlanta official is to point fingers of blame at someone else while begging the state or federal government for help.
I think, eventually, the blame will be put on those who owned slaves in these parts some 200 years ago. After all, it's easy for contemporary officials to say that none of this would have ever happened if it hadn't been for slavery. But I'm just guessing.
Last week President George W. Bush sent Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne down to Georgia to take a personal interest in the tri-state dispute over Lake Lanier water currently going on between Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Seems Alabama Governor Bob Riley wants more water to run his nuclear power plant, and Florida Governor Charlie Crist wants more water to preserve a rare mussel species, as well as his coastal fishing. Atlanta officials, meanwhile, are hollering that Lake Lanier is "our water" and Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue has announced his intention to hold onto Georgia's water, no matter what problems Alabama and Florida have.
As of this first weekend in November 2007, the president is backing Governor Perdue. It should be noted, interestingly, that all three governors are Republicans, same as the president, so partisan politics can't be blamed for this. But it is widely known that Georgia's Perdue has national political aspirations and panders to Bush.
As a Georgia boy, I count that as a good thing. Alabama and Florida boys don't, of course, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. You win some, you lose some. Some days you're the dog, and some days you're the fire hydrant. Since Georgia has the water, and we're upstream, we're in the driver's seat.
Hey, listen, if this wasn't such a serious issue, I'd find the sudden scrambling and posturing laughable. As it is, I'm so sickened by it all that I almost want to throw up. Anybody with sense knows exactly what the situation is, but for the sake of being politically correct, nobody will say it out loud.
I might in a minute - but for now, bear with me for a look at the history of this particular situation.
Back in 1972 these same three states of Georgia, Alabama and Florida began discussing a tri-state water compact. Last week, for the first time in those 35 years, United States senators, state legislators, federal officials and representatives of the Corps of Engineers sat down together in the same room.
No kidding. At the bidding of Georgia Senator Saxby Chambliss, the first-ever meeting of all interested parties was held in the same room.
Now, you may find that to be an amazing statement. But as it happened, in those 35 years we'd never had a prolonged and serious drought, so the elected leadership never quite got around to actually fleshing out any plan of action.
Coinciding with Kempthorne's visit, the Georgia Legislature released their proposed Reservoir Development and Drought Relief Act, a plan to build a network of state reservoirs to combat drought. This great plan will alleviate any future problems related to fresh water for Georgia, forever.
This old, simple, small-town Georgia boy calls that "a day late and a dollar short."
Meanwhile, with everything else going on, the State of Georgia initiated legal action to prevent any additional release of water to the other two states until the proceedings terminate.
Georgia's Perdue was urged to back off from that stance, but his retort was simply: "The trigger's been pulled on that."
So that's where we are right now, folks. Atlanta is looking at dry faucets by Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That's right. Come mid-January 2008, Atlanta (a.k.a. Terminus, Marthasville, "the Phoenix rising from the ashes,") will run out of water.
Atlanta is not the first place on Earth to face a prolonged drought, nor will it be the last. Parts of our own nation have dealt with drought, most notably during the "Dust Bowl" era when some 785 trillion metric tons of topsoil were blown from the heartland of America into the atmosphere. We overcame that time of tribulation, and we will endure and overcome this drought.
Other locales on planet Earth have been transformed from dry desert into lush tropical paradises. Las Vegas, Nev., exists in the middle of America's great southwestern desert. Projects in Dubai include an indoor ski resort and artificial islands, the world's tallest building and an underwater hotel - all in the world's largest contiguous region of desertification.
Las Vegas, San Diego County in southern California, and the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area exist only because of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, called "the Law of the River." An aqueduct - constructed in the 1930s, opened in 1940 and consisting of 242 miles of interlocking pipes, pumps, reservoirs and dams - made possible the population explosion and continuing development in those regions. Despite Arizona going to the United States Supreme Court in 1963, Nevada and California have received more and more of Colorado River water.
But today, in 2007, the Lake Mead reservoir stockpiled behind the marvel of engineering that is Hoover Dam is some 30 feet below average, having endured three straight years of reduced water flow through the turbines. Despite the creation of the California State Water Project, which weaned the greater Los Angeles downtown area from Colorado River water starting in 1972, there is no surplus water now from that river for Las Vegas and southern California.
And so it is that, today, municipalities in the American Southwest are looking into salt water desalinization for any future water needs, which is what Dubai and the entire area of the Middle East have been using for decades.
There is no possibility that Georgia will ever have to look at desalinization for our drinking water. The largest state east of the Mississippi River has fresh water sources aplenty for our needs, present and future. And even those of us simple country boys know that northern Alabama has more than enough fresh water to supply the needs for that state, and beyond. Just a cursory glance at rudimentary geology reveals that the entire state of Florida has a nearly inexhaustible fresh water table located an average of just eight feet below the earth's surface.
But that's not the issue, is it? It's all about politics, and what's politically correct.
Alabama built the ridiculously expensive Tennessee River-Tombigbee Waterway to promote economic growth in that state. If they can swing that kind of construction, they can surely find a way to divert water from Lake Weiss and Lake Guntersville from north Alabama to handle any problems south Alabama may have.
Florida has no state income tax, in order to attract retirees. Well, hello. Welcome to sunny Florida. You want to live here? Help us fund drinking water for our beloved 'gators.
As for Atlanta, I have little sympathy for the capital city. Since 1974 the mayors have been minority folks who lived off the largesse of those who went before them: Maynard Jackson, Andrew Young, Bill Campbell and Shirley Franklin. Not one of them did anything to renovate or upgrade the infrastructure which they were entrusted to preserve. Now all of a sudden, with Atlanta's infrastructure crumbling around her ornate City Hall, all the current mayor can do is holler for help from the state or federal government.
Shirley Franklin surely can't turn to her predecessor, Bill Campbell, and ask him for advice. He's in Federal prison in Miami serving time as a convicted felon for tax evasion. She could ask Maynard Jackson, but he's dead and unlikely to answer. And all Andy Young will do is talk about his time walking with Martin in Selma, which important as it was, doesn't go very far toward making it rain in Atlanta.
So, in the end, I expect that in about another week or so the Corps of Engineers, the interior secretary, the governors and U. S. senators from Alabama, Florida and Georgia, along with Atlanta's mayor will all place the blame for the present-day water woes in the South on those slaveholders from the 1800s.
After all, there's no lobby group to represent those guys.
Nat Harwell is a Newton County resident whose column appears Sundays in The Covington News.