[Marxism] Water in Atlanta

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Sat Nov 24 19:24:42 MST 2007

I've been doing a lot of reading on this and suffice it to say that just
about everything in the mainstream media is bullshit. If bullshit were
water, we'd probably all have drowned by now.

The alarmist 78 or 80 days left of water that you hear about is when water
runs out for the main hydroelectric power generation units at Buford Dam,
assuming no or a very low level of inflows. 

Based on average NET outflows from the Lake in the last month and a half or
so, back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest six months or more before that
happens and we hit the socalled "dead zone." And of course, the end of
November is, based on historical averages, when the lake reaches its lowest
level, although this is also a result of how releases are managed. With the
increased precipitation from December on, a LOT of water can accumulate in
Lake Lanier, both from increased inflows and because outflows can be reduced
since rain runoff goes into numerous creeks or drainage systems and then
into the Chattahoochee of Flint Rivers, reducing the need for supplemental
releases from Lanier to maintain high-enough rates of flow into Florida.

When we "run out of water," at that point, there will "only" be 867,600
acre-feet of water in Lake Lanier (acre-foot=the amount of water it takes to
fill one acre with one foot of water). That's 282 BILLION gallons, but we
still have got about 180 billion gallons to go through before getting there.

There is a lot of misinformation about the socalled "Dead Pool" or "Dead
Zone," the water level below where the intakes for the main powerhouse units
are. It is said this is oxygen-starved stale water with many contaminants
that will be much harder to purify than current supplies even if it can be
arranged to pump it out.

However, the U.S. army corps of engineers every day, and most often twice a
day, releases hundreds of millions of gallons more and sometimes up to 2
billion gallons from the "dead pool." Apart from the water used in
hydroelectric generation (my understanding is that the flow out of the
powerhouse of Buford Dam is about 500 Cubic Feet per Second [CFS], about 323
million gallons a day), water released from Lake Lanier is released through
a sluice at the lowest level of the lake, i.e., precisely from the dead
pool, and this water pretty much oxygenates and cleans itself to normal
river water by the time it gets to Atlanta and gets pumped from the river.

The communities that will be most affected as the dead pool level is reached
are those that draw directly from the Lake, but they are a relatively small
number, and have already installed or are planning to extensions and pumps
for their intakes. And despite the scare stories, the water quality of the
top layer of water in the lake shouldn't be any different than now even when
at the dead pool level because the Lake is currently receiving anywhere from
150 to 500 million gallons a day from the rivers and streams that feed it
(the number varies greatly depending on whether there's been any rain. That
range of figures is based on the actual numbers for the last week or ten
days, which can be seen here:

The Army Corps of Engineers runs our water supply based on congressional
mandate. That mandate is to control flooding, to guarantee power generation,
and maintain a navigable channel in the Apalachicola river in Florida. Human
consumption is an allowed use, as is recreation (boating on Lake Lanier) but
not a major factor in determining flow rates or reservoir management. At
least, it hadn't been until now, and not just for all the normal
capitalistic reasons but simply because there hasn't been a pressing enough
need for it to overcome certain political obstacles (more about that below).

There is a long-standing brawl between "Georgia" (in quotes because the
interest involved is the Southern Company, which has a near-monopoly on
power generation in this part of the Southeast, and other heavy industrial
users of water like Atlanta's #1 consumer, the Coca Cola Company), Alabama
and Florida over water usage. What has happened is that Gov. Sonny Perdue
used some pretty outlandish calculations, albeit based on a real drought, to
create a panic and undermine Florida's position in the lawsuits. 

By law, water is supposed to be shared equally between different states.
Florida has used the endangered species act to trump this, claiming a 5000
CFS flow from the dam that feeds the Apalachicola river (3.2 BILLION gallons
a day) is required for a couple of endangered species. 

Alabama has blocked with Florida in part because one of its main interests
is the Farley nuclear plant which requires a flow rate of 2000 CFS to
operate and if the water has to flow into Florida in such quantities, then
much of it has to go by the Farley nuke on the Alabama shore of the
Chattahoochee (down south, but not in northern Georgia, the "Hooch" or
Chattahoochee marks the border between the two states).

That flow level also allows coal fired plants to operate including one in
Florida as well as helping to keep the Apalachicola River (essentially the
Hooch after the Flint joins it) navigable (whether any significant
commercial navigation takes place on it I don't know.) 

There have been no detailed environmental studies done to determine whether
less or more is required for endangered species or other environmental
factors, and it is said Florida's congressional delegation has worked
actively to prevent the studies from being carried out or funded by the
federal government.

There is some skepticism that this water flow level is required for the
endangered species, since before all the dams were built, flows were
probably much lower in many dry seasons and especially during droughts. 

By creating a hysteria and crisis around the current drought, Georgia Gov.
Perdue forced Florida to accept an immediate 5% reduced water flow, and up
to a 16% cut if water supplies get tighter, based on some quick-and-dirty
calculations by the fish and wildlife service. 

In other words, at the next court hearing Florida won't be in a position to
argue that the Endangered Species Act requires an absolute, drop-dead,
rock-bottom flow of 5000 CFS, having accepted lower figures for now, and
running especially the risk that the actual reduced flow, which began Nov.
15, will have no adverse impact on the populations of the two endangered

And I believe no more than a 16% reduction has been demanded by the Georgia
government because then the Farley Nuclear Power Plant and/or a number of
coal-fired plants would have to shut down. There's usually a reason for
these sorts of numbers, even though it may not be publicized, and the
Southern Company is to a very large degree the real boss on this issue.

Thus, the conservation measures that are in place in Georgia don't affect
power plants and are there mostly for political effect. The amount of water
for domestic and normal business (not industrial or power-generating) use is
very, very small in relation to the overall flow down the Hooch
(Chattahoochee River), the Flint River, and tributaries that feed the
Woodruff dam that releases water to the Apalachicola River in Florida.

The Southern Company says it doesn't matter that for example the Farley nuke
or coal-fired plants withdraw hundreds of millions of gallons a day because
almost all of it is returned to the river. But to get to the plants, that
water has got to be released from dams upstream during a drought, and the
Southern Company doesn't put it back in reservoirs upstream, just uses it
and lets it go on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

By requiring conversion to more efficient cooling systems, water use would
be reduced by an order of magnitude. For a medium-sized older coal fired
plant, that's a reduction to 32 million gallons from half a million gallon a

The technical issue involved is this: thermoelectric power generating plants
can use two types of cooling systems. The type where water flows through
once require humongous amounts of water flowing by (hundreds of millions or
a billion or more gallons a day), both to draw on and to dilute the warmth
of the water returned to the river. The closed-loop-type systems require
much smaller amounts (tens of millions of gallons a day) but half or more is
then "consumed," i.e., lost to the downstream flow from evaporation.

With the huge flow of the pass-through-once cooling system plants, the
Southern Company is able to claim its OVERALL demand for water should be
ignored since most of the water is returned to the rivers. 

Here's an article from our local paper that put in at least a little bit of
the truth:

*  *  *

As the historic drought worsens and the tri-state water battle escalates,
Georgia policymakers are all but ignoring the region's biggest water

Electric utilities are the single largest users of the region's freshwater.
A family of four can use three times more water to power their home than
they use to drink, bathe and water their lawn.

In Georgia, electric utilities use 68 percent of all surface water, the
single largest user in the state, according to 2000 data from the U.S.
Geological Survey, the latest year available.


*  *  * 

There is a much broader question involved which is that this isn't the only
drought this area has had. They happen every few years. It's not even the
worst drought on record, just the worst one in the past few decades. After
every drought, all sorts of commissions get formed, all sorts of studies get
done, all sorts of plans get made -- and nothing happens.

There is a structural, so to speak, problem in managing this river basin.
And that is that by far the largest reservoir is Lake Lanier, but it has the
smallest drainage area and is closest to the headwaters. Downstream dams and
reservoirs aren't much use for longer term storage -- they have to be
drained to a low level towards the end of each year so they can contain
potential floods in the spring. Given this, in a drought, Lake Lanier has to
release huge amounts of water to maintain the flow rates in the river and
keep the downstream hydroelectric and other power plants operating, pretty
much doing all the heavy lifting by itself. That's why it was built, this is
how it is supposed to operate, it was never meant to guarantee water supply
for human consumption.

Given this, the metro area and Georgia as a whole needs its own water
management system, not just relying on Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, and
other Army Corps of Engineer projects. 

There is no shortage of water in these parts. Although the media keeps
repeating the mantra of Phoenix, Las Vegas and Atlanta as cities that are
outgrowing their watersheds, Las Vegas and Phoenix are in the desert, and
this isn't true in Atlanta's case AT ALL. 

Within literally half a kilometer from my house there are three streams and
two lakes, and these streams appear to be independent of each other (they
may flow together somewhere downstream, I don't know). This isn't
exceptional, for Atlanta is at the foot of a heavily wooded mountain range
and I'm told that (even now) you have to dig only 8-10 feet for the bottom
of the hole to begin filling with water (how this could possibly by I'm not
sure, since the Atlanta metro area is not level, but I'm told this is true
and the reason why there are so many springs and with them creeks all over
the place).

In fact there are parts of six different watersheds in the five counties
that are considered the metro area by the strictest definition. 

All the studies that have been done after recent droughts say pretty much
that this area needs to create its own reservoirs and take other water
management measures. Nothing gets done because of the way Georgia politics

Georgia politics is all about counterposing the rest of the state to the
metro area. And WITHIN the metro area, it is all about counterposing the
rest of the counties (up to 19 total by some definitions) to the two core
counties of Fulton and Dekalb. And even within Fulton and Dekalb, there is a
lot of counterposing of the unincorporated areas and smaller cities to

Way back in the mists of time and all that this may have been about the
traditional "rural" versus "urban" divide and class interests. TODAY in
Georgia there's a different, and largely overriding factor -- race. Atlanta
is a Black-run city, and has been for decades. It is the capital of Black
America. It has a fast-growing Black and Latino population. DeKalb county
"tipped" and became majority-Black run a few years ago. But even before
then, Blacks had significant influence in DeKalb politics. The Fulton County
commission is now majority Black, but I'm not sure how long this has been
the case -- longer than DeKalb, I think.

Thus, MARTA, the transit system, is the largest such system in the entire
country that gets no state funding. Moreover, MARTA stops at the DeKalb and
Fulton county lines. Mostly white voters in Gwinnett and other counties in
the 1970's voted down joining MARTA based on racist arguments like that it
would bring "inner city crime" to their suburbs.

The Grady Hospital system is the most important public hospital system in
the state. Again, it is a joint Fulton-DeKalb funded operation. Just now the
state government is making sure it goes bankrupt in order to force the local
governments to hand it over to a chamber of commerce-organized "non profit"
board, i.e., to privatize it and stop it from being controlled by Blacks.
Citibank that is heading a group of banks offering the system a $100 million
loan on condition that it be privatized. And the whole point of the
privatization is to cut back -- one proposal is to close the dialysis
clinic, which means that people who couldn't pay for expensive private
dialysis would die. 

The object of the political game is to deprive Atlanta, and the two core
counties, of needed resources and authority so that they fail. So, for
example, unincorporated areas can't join the City of Atlanta. But white
areas contiguous to Atlanta have been allowed to incorporate (with the
effect of withdrawing resources from the country government) as separate

However, any water management system here would have to be regional, and as
the heart of the metro area and by far the biggest city Atlanta, and
Atlanta's Black administration, would have to play a major role, as would
the two county governments. The LAST thing white folks in the state
government want to do is to sit on a water-management regional board (or
transportation board or regional planning board or health care board, etc.)
in which Black folks have major influence. The state government zealously
maintains control of all those functions. 

So, yes, there is a drought, but the prospective water shortage itself is
man-made, and in two interrelated ways: first, by the Corps of Engineer's
absolute priorization of the Southern Company's power plants, and given the
difficulty in breaking that, the inability to do anything statewide or
regionally due to the political gridlock that has resulted from decades of
politicians, and most of all candidates for statewide office, building their
careers on the race-baiting of Atlanta. 


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