Byline: WALTER C. JONES
ATLANTA - Gubernatorial candidates Nathan Deal and Roy Barnes both rank solving the state's water crisis as a top priority, and they mention many of the same solutions, such as building more reservoirs and negotiating with neighboring states. The biggest differences come in how far they are proposing to go toward those goals.
However, one step they both vow not to take is laying a cross-country pipeline to withdraw water from the Savannah River to supply Atlanta.
"Taking water from the Savannah River Basin is not an option," Deal says.
Barnes frequently uses the line, "Ours is a storage problem. Ours is not a supply problem." Deal, the Republican nominee, tells audiences he is the candidate most familiar with the water battle between Alabama, Florida and Georgia over metro Atlanta's access to water in Lake Lanier because the giant lake has been in his district during his 18 years in Congress.
When he resigned from Congress this year, he was backing legislation to broaden the official purpose of the lake to include withdrawals for drinking. And he sponsored a bill that would have given communities credit for all the water they return to a river in the form of treated waste, which would be subtracted from their withdrawal totals.
None of the legislation passed, and some observers blame Deal for not getting Congress to solve the whole debate because Lake Lanier is in his district.
As a candidate, he often says he hopes the current governors of the three states can agree on a water-sharing arrangement before they all leave office at the end of the year. If they don't, he said, he is best equipped to negotiate with their successors.
Barnes, the Democratic nominee, has drawn his share of criticism for not doing more during his term as governor, particularly from his rival for the nomination, David Poythress. When he was defeated in 2002, Barnes was hoping to implement a plan to build 17 reservoirs in North Georgia, a plan Gov. Sonny Perdue didn't pursue.
Still, Barnes did create the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District that began coordinating water strategy in metro Atlanta. It served as the model for a network of planning districts that Perdue pushed through the General Assembly as a mechanism for assembling a statewide water plan.
Barnes and Deal applauded the legislature's passage this year of a water-conservation bill because it will show good faith in negotiations with the other states and with the federal judge considering a lawsuit against the state from Alabama and Florida.
"I'm not very optimistic about us winning outright the cases on appeal," Barnes said.
Looking forward, both candidates say the state must build more reservoirs, relying on state funds from the Georgia Environmental Financing Authority. …