Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why do mollusks hate our freedoms?

Par for the course, the 100-year drought and looming water catastrophe for the metropolitan Atlanta area, is turning into a political mud fling (no pun intended). They did this and they did that, they said this and they said that. That’s the cream that is rising to the top. Meanwhile, Lake Lanier is dropping 1.7 inches per day. Rains are forecast for tonight, Thursday and Friday so we shall see if a drop of cool water will fall on us.

All day I face the barren waste without the taste of water,
Cool water.
Old Dan and I with throats burned dry and souls that cry for water,
Cool water.

Sons of the Pioneers, Cool Water, verse 1

This problem has been brewing for years, long before I was born and possibly before you were born. The problem can be read about in James Dickey’s novel Deliverance, it can be seen in the distinct shift in Georgia politics since the flawed Governorship of Joe Frank Harris and it can be told when you talk with a person who lives in Georgia regardless of what town or city they live in regardless if they are native or transplant. The problem, to be blunt, is hatred, hurt feelings and selfishness. We are all to blame, native Georgian and Yankee transplant living in Buckhead. All of us are to blame and no one wants to tell the truth about it. I am to blame as well as I have been apathetic to the fights even though I do not waste water.

The story should really start back in the post-war days of the mid and late 1940’s. The south as a whole was still in the process of coping with being an agrarian society that was converting to an industrialized society. The major cities of the south such as Atlanta, Birmingham, New Orleans, were all growing and basic resources were needed. Birmingham, along with Chattanooga, were the great industrial cities of the south, with steel being king. TVA was creating electricity for every type of manufacturing plant you can think of, and the horrendous flooding of the Tennessee River was a long ago trouble that only your Granny remembered well. Atlanta and New Orleans at one time fought backroom deals and pulled every old boy that could be found into the network to get the Federal Reserve Bank. Atlanta eventually won and got the bank but the bad feelings from the fight are still felt.

The night are cool and I'm a fool each stars a pool of water,
Cool water.
But with the dawn I'll wake and yawn and carry on to water,
Cool water.

Sons of the Pioneers, Cool Water, verse 2

Atlanta’s future growth was tied to two things, water and electricity. Atlanta was out of the TVA grid so Georgia Power was tasked with ramping up projects to make more electricity. Water could be provided through a reservoir system, which could also have the side benefits of creating hydroelectric power and provide a new middle-class with recreational facilities. Land was surveyed, families were chased away and before the 60’s arrived, Atlanta had a reliable water supply and power generating capabilities that would last for decades of growth before new plants needed to come online.

Quite literally, Atlanta had positioned itself as a city with growing room. The city had the utilities in place to support the massive population of today long before it even had a million residents or before the Interstate Highway System had snaked it’s way through the city. City leaders, businessmen and politicians recognized this early on and the big push was on. The catchy slogan came out, Southern Bell ran more and more wire out into what was then known as the suburbs and under the gold dome of the state capitol more and more funds were shipped to the metropolitan Atlanta area for projects tied to economic growth.

Keep a movin' Dan, don't you listen to him Dan,
he's a devil not a manand he spreads the burnin' sand with water.
Dan can't you see that big green tree where the waters runnin' freeand it's waiting there for me and you.
Water, cool water.

Sons of the Pioneers, Cool Water, chorus

The construction of the I-285 perimeter roadway is the embodiment of what Georgians have felt for generations. There are two Georgia’s, one in the city of Atlanta (Inside the Perimeter, or ITP for short) and one that comprises the rest of the state (Outside the Perimeter, or OTP for short). Old festering grudges have built up over the years. It has been “our way vs. their way” on both sides of 285 for a very long time and the resentment for a long line of real or believed slights has deepened.

In the meantime growth in Atlanta has skyrocketed beyond what anyone had envisioned. The city’s infrastructure is unable to handle the load. In some areas such as the storm water and sewerage systems, the advanced age and condition has been known about for decades but has only been addressed in recent years but is still not fixed. The land use issues have escalated between landowners and local/state regulators. The claims of overbearing laws and regulations are shouted whenever a developer is not allowed to completely cover acres of land or a homeowner is fined for cutting down trees. When real estate developers are told they cannot create massive infill housing in older, established neighborhoods they claim interference from government bureaucracy.

Whenever the serious problems have been discussed and brought out into the open the old and tired chants were given once the cost of fixing the problems was told. "We are taxed to death! We can't keep paying OUR hard earned cash to keep that city afloat." "Why should Georgians pay for Atlanta's luxuries. If they need to fix their system, let them pay for it." "Why should I not have control over my own future and give Atlanta the control over my business, my residential area and my zoning laws?" "No wonder Atlanta has so many problems, it's run by nothing but blacks. Whites moved out to the suburbs in the 60's and 70's and those cities are growing nicely." Yes, we have heard it all and they have said it all. It's the same old excuses, the same old stories and the same old lines they have been saying for more than 5 decades.

The shadows sway and seem to say tonight we pray for water,
Cool water.
And way up there He'll hear our prayer and show us where there's water,
Cool Water.

Sons of the Pioneers, Cool Water, verse 3

Our massive over-development has reduced the amount of land able to absorb rainwater and our water table is not being replenished as a result. The over development is not centralized in Atlanta it covers the whole state. Storm run off is increased and is funneled into the Chattahoochee with pollutants such as oil, fertilizer and pesticides. No water restrictions were put into place until the crisis loomed. There has never been a water conservation and awareness program in the state and no tax incentives are given to home and business owners who do conserve this precious resource.

Now, a triple whammy has hit us. We are in the midst of a 100-year drought and predictions of a drier than normal winter lies ahead. Our growth has taxed the capabilities of Lake Lanier to supply us. The last hurdle is two species of mollusks, which inhabit the down river areas of the Chattahoochee before it dumps into the Gulf of Mexico. The Army Corp of Engineers is bound by federal law and federal mandate to supply enough water from Lake Lanier to maintain the species with a specific flow of water every day. Now we have the chants that little old ladies will go without water all because of a couple of stupid muscles down in Florida.

Dan's feet are sore he's yearning for just one thing more than water,
Cool water.
Like me, I guess, he'd like to rest where there's no quest for water,
Cool water.

Sons of the Pioneers, Cool Water, final verse

So here we are. Living through an event we have no control over, the drought; and living under conditions of our own making, a water crisis. The muscles in Florida are endangered in part because of the low water conditions created by Lake Lanier’s construction and other water grabs along the path of the Chattahoochee River. Lake Lanier was constructed to control flooding, create a water reservoir and generate electricity. The people came to the area Lake Lanier supports with no strings attached and they have overloaded the system. Now that a real emergency is just around the corner whom do we blame? The muscles.

Why do mollusks hate our freedoms? I need a drink of cool water.

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