Atlanta Forward / Another View: Our water crisis demands bold leadership

What is our “Plan B” if our ability to use Lake Lanier for drinking water is greatly reduced?

That’s what 80 business, environmental and government officials have been studying since October, shortly after Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that metro Atlanta’s use of Lake Lanier for drinking water could be limited in 2012.

On a separate track, Gov. Sonny Perdue is pursuing legal appeals, congressional action and negotiations with Florida and Alabama. But the job of the Governor’s Water Contingency Task Force was to consider options if the judge’s ruling stands.

After months of studying a long list of options, early this week the task force will give the governor our final recommendations for addressing Georgia’s water crisis.

But our work is not over.

In fact, now an even more critical chapter begins. As the Georgia General Assembly convenes in January, we will continue to work with the governor and elected officials as our recommendations are considered.

There’s no single magic solution. We recommend a mix called “the 3Cs.”

● Conserve: aggressive conservation and fixing leaks.

● Capture: expanding existing reservoirs and building new ones.

● Control: managing our water supplies through progressive water policies.

When making recommendations, task force members felt strongly that we must balance environmental concerns with the cost-effectiveness of different options.

The thorough analysis, likely worth more than $2 million, was provided at no cost by The Boston Consulting Group and a team of expert engineering and consulting firms.

Even with the “3Cs,” we cannot close the gap between the water we have and the water we need by 2012, the judge’s deadline.

The more time we have, the more productive we can be. There are additional contingency options that can be implemented by 2015 and 2020. Emergency solutions are extremely costly, but having a few more years gives us more and better choices.

As the governor has said repeatedly, using Lake Lanier for water supply is our most cost-effective and environmentally friendly option. Last week, the governors of Georgia, Alabama and Florida had a very productive meeting towards reaching a water-sharing agreement. If an agreement is reached and full access to Lanier for water supply is granted, there will obviously be no need for a contingency plan.

However, the work of the task force has identified many options that may well be necessary as we plan for future growth. The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District has developed plans for our long-term water supplies. And work has been ongoing to craft a state water plan, led by regional water councils, that will reflect a comprehensive approach for future water needs.

Even if the governors reach agreement, the task force’s work will be valuable for that process. If the governors are unable to reach agreement, our work provides a way forward through what will be a very difficult challenge.

Inaction is not an option. If we do nothing and allow the judge’s ruling to stand as currently written, metro Atlanta alone would take a $26 billion annual hit to its economy, causing a devastating ripple effect throughout Georgia and the Southeast.

We firmly believe this crisis can be dealt with by our elected leaders. It will take bold leadership and aggressive action, and we are confident our leaders are committed to solving this crisis.

John Brock, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, and Tim Lowe of Lowe Engineers are co-chairs of the Governor’s Water Contingency Task Force.