Southern Water, Southern Power: How the Politics of Cheap Energy and Water Scarcity Shaped a Region

By Christopher J. Manganiello | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION
Southern Water, Southern Power

Over the course of three years beginning in 2006, the Southeast faced the worst drought in its history. As rain stopped falling from the sky from northern Alabama to central North Carolina, rivers dried up, and residents of the southeastern part of the United States nerv ously watched water levels in reservoirs drop dramatically. The lack of rain and diminished river flows so alarmed energy producers and regulators from seven states that representatives from five investor-owned energy companies, five public energy generators, and multiple federal agencies quietly convened at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport to discuss how to keep the lights on and avoid rolling blackouts.1 In the South, water and power were inextricably connected.

The drought also stressed municipal drinking water supplies in momentous ways in 2007. One small Tennessee community’s water source—a deep well—went dry, forcing the town to truck in water. By November, other communities—including North Carolina’s capital, Raleigh—reported having only a three-month or less supply of water on hand. Southeastern residents unaccustomed to urban drought were clearly anxious; at least one Atlanta homeowner stockpiled thirty-six five-gallon water jugs in his basement. But the most visible consequence of the drought in Georgia—and a persistent source of local anxiety, regional conflict, and national media attention—was the growing ring of red clay around a blue reservoir named Lake Lanier.2

Located in northern Georgia, Lake Lanier is responsible for meeting the water needs of upward of 3 million metro Atlanta residents plus millions of people and countless uses farther downstream. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps), the federal agency responsible for managing Buford Dam, which impounds Lake Lanier, was releasing water from the dam into the Chattahoochee River to meet downstream needs in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia and to comply with federal laws. Besides

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