Atlanta and Water
Last October, I visited Decatur, a smallish suburban city in Greater Atlanta. See note. While there I was impressed with the nearly universal concern
raised by north Georgia’s longest recorded drought that had blanked most of the rainfall since last March. Metro Atlanta receives its drinking
water (also its industrial and commercial supply) from two lakes north of the metropolitan area owned or controlled by the US Corps of Engineers. Lake
Allatoona and Lake Lanier. About 400 million gallons a day. But that is less than half the total water taken from the 2 lakes. The Corps did a survey
of the two lakes in early November and declared there was a nine (9) months supply of water in the lakes. When full, the lakes hold a 2 years supply.
Concerns over potable water reach far from Atlanta. Some 350 miles south to the Gulf of Mexico. Large cities as LaGrange and Columbus, GA are also
served by the two lakes. Hundreds of thousands of people living on the Alabama side of the river also use its water. In the fast growing west Florida
panhandle, wildlife and the $50 million a year seafood industry of Apalachicola Bay are threatened should the Corps hold back the 2 lake’s
headwaters that make up most of the water flowing into the Chattahoochee River system. The river’s freshwater keeps the salt water of the Gulf out
of the Bay, allowing the shellfish to grow.
A system of river dams that hit the TVA drawing boards in the early 1940s was never intended to fulfill the demands made by today’s exploded
population and the largely unforseen industrial developments made in the region over the last half century. In short, our infrastructure is out-dated
and is being taxed beyond it capacity. The obvious solution just to enlarge the watershed running into the two lakes underestimates the adverse impact
that would have on thousands of other people. There is little to none surplus water in the region. Fast growing Huntsville and Birmingham, Alabama as
well as Chattanooga, Tennessee lay claim to that same water. Charlotte, NC, Columbia, SC, and Augusta GA, also have needs that extra water would help
The largest single non-essential consumer of the 2 lakes fresh water is - golf courses! Well yes, I am the one who calls golf courses non-essential.
That argument aside, we are looking square in the face at an unwelcome but upcoming sea change in our old-time priorities. We are leaning the hard way
that you can live without petroleum, but you cannot live without water.
The nearest “unlimited” supply of fresh water is available at Nashville, TN, from the Cumberland River. Another temporary source of fresh water
might be Louisville, KY, from the Ohio River. It’s 7 hours one way from Louisville to Lake Allatoona. Four hours one way from Nashville. Could
trucks carry enough water to Atlanta to make a difference? If the current 6,000 gallons 80,000 pounds GVW weight limit was lifted, 9000 gallons of
water could be transported in existing trucks, weighing about 105,000 pounds GVW. Special rules would have to be put into effect on I-65, I-28 and
I-75 to facilitate the transport of water by truck. By raising the speed limit on trucks and restricting the right hand lanes to water tankers only
and confining cars to the left lane, trucks from Louisville and Nashville could supply part of Atlanta's fresh water needs. It would require 12,000
trucks loaded with 9,000 gallons each to deliver about 100 million gallons a day, about 10%-15% of the current demand. That's a lot of trucks!
If it takes 15 minutes to unload a tanker, then you’d need 200-300 accessible off-loading sites for the trucks. As you can see, it would be a
demanding - but not impossible - undertaking to supply Atlanta’s barest minimum water needs by truck. The wholesale price for drinking water in
Louisville is $15 per 1000 gallons poured into your truck. $135 for 9,000 gallons. But with drivers pay at $18 an hour and diesel fuel running $3.25 a
gallon, you’d have to figure $1,000 per truck load as the cost delivered to Lake Allatoona. About $12 million a day.
So who’s going to pay for this expensive way to get your water? Well, suppose a Low Income Provision is made. Let’s say the first 500 gallons per
month per household is charged at $10. The next 500 gallons would be charged at $25. The excess up to 5,000 galleons would be charged at 25 cents per
gallon. That's $1,000 a month! Water bills would be payable in advance. Use of over 5,000 gallons would get you a shut-off order. Hospitals would be
excluded and some other really essential high users allowed. Special usage permits would be available, but publicly posted and signed by the
applicant, the mayor and the professional justifying the need. Falsification or negligent authorization of high use permits would be jailing offenses.
Offer a quick pay standard reward of $1,000 cash for tuning in cheaters.
Suppose you are the Person-in-Charge. This loss of drinking water would have the same effect as if Hurricane Katrina had struck Atlanta rather than
New Orleans. It would shut down the metro Atlanta region. When do you order the evacuation of Atlanta? You cannot wait until the water is gone. It
would take 2-3 months for the orderly evacuation of this area. So do you wait until the water supply is 4 months? Or 6 months? Or 2 months? Should
there be a Emergency Plan? Should the public engage in the formulating of such drastic measures? Or leave it to “Brownie?”
Note: The Atlanta Metropolitan area population is given as 5 million and is primarily located in Fulton, Cobb, Dekalb, Gwinnett, Clayton and Douglas
counties. Some information is available at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website,
[edit on 12/17/2007 by donwhite]