One Man’s Opinion, “Water Wars, Reservoirs, and Quarries,” Wednesday, March 3, 2021

More than 60 percent of our human bodies are basically saltwater.  Oceans comprise more than 70 percent of the world’s surface, and as the polar ice caps thaw and melt, that area is growing.  Ice is most typically frozen freshwater, an ice shelf melting and falling into the ocean is no longer freshwater.  And while only about 5 percent of the world’s available water supply is fresh, potable water (fit for human consumption), nearly 70 percent of that again currently exists in frozen form, atop mountains or polar ice caps and glaciers.


Management of this shrinking and critical supply, freshwater, will likely be the battleground of the decade which lies ahead of us.  The City of Atlanta is unveiling its new $320-million water reservoir, in the former Vulcan mining quarry, at the northwest tip of the city of Atlanta.  The new reservoir at full-pool will contain more than 2-billion gallons of freshwater, an emergency 30-day supply for the city of 500,000, versus the current 3-day supply available in two aging reservoirs at the Atlanta Water Works, adjacent to its Hemphill Pumping Stations.


The fragility of the current system, principally constructed in the 1920’s and 30’s was well in evidence when Atlanta hosted its first Super Bowl in 1994.  Just days prior to the start of Super Bowl week, thousands of tourists and celebrities paying rack hotel room rates, thousands of journalists, and the AFC/NFC Champions arriving with their entourages, the Hemphill Pump station failed, and the backup system also crashed…for nearly three days heading into Super Bowl week, toilets downtown would not flush, no running water was available in hotels or residential high rises…as the clock ticked away, the system came back online just before the desired onslaught of media attention and guests.  Whew…


Along with spending $2-billion to upgrade its sewer system over the past decade and a half, responding to federal court orders and litigation requiring the separation of Atlanta’s out-dated Central Sewage Overflow System (CSO’s), Atlanta has been building massive tunnels underneath the city from the northwest to the southwest, carrying sewerage to treatment plants and now from the new reservoir into the city and the Hemphill Treatment plant and pump station.  Adjacent DeKalb County is also investing hundreds of millions in replacing and overhauling its sewerage system, while continually facing challenging and continuing sewage spills on the county’s southside into the South River and other Chattahoochee tributaries.


But in many ways these tasks are simply too big to be born by county and municipal governments alone.  Within the past few years, Forsyth County, one of the fastest-growing counties in Georgia, was finally able to secure access to water from Lake Lanier, which the county partially forms, without purchasing that water from a privately-owned system controlled by the much smaller City of Cumming.


If you want to really understand the power of water resource and allocation, spending some time reviewing the relocation of the Colorado River out west, and the Riparian Water Laws which followed.  Without relocating the mighty Colorado River and creating massive reservoirs in places like Lake Meade, cities like Las Vegas, Nevada, and Los Angeles, California could not exist today, and though this was a part of American manifest destiny, one of the most verdant and green agricultural basins on the continent, along our northern border with Mexico, was turned into a dry and lifeless desert as a result.


Sydney, Australia constructed several coastline desalination plants after experiencing a record 100-year drought, which now provide for nearly half the potable water supply to that nation’s capital and largest city.  Our Middle Eastern allies in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and several other smaller nations now have an almost entirely desalinated water supply.  In the United States, San Diego, California, and Tampa, Florida have been among the leaders in developing massive desalination and water treatment systems…but these again are largely municipal and county efforts, partially encouraged by federal grants or guaranteed loans.


Though climate change is in my opinion occurring, the jury remains out on the best paths to solving those challenges, but whichever way you lean, I’m reasonably certain that having the ability to reach for and turn on your tap water, flush your commode, or take a morning shower will remain largely a part of your daily routine.  There is no time like the present for planning on and securing ongoing water supply, before we reach that tipping point of ‘water, water everywhere…yet not a drop to drink.’  Cheers.