When Man Is Endangered
Investor's Business Daily 10/23/2007
Regulation: The burgeoning metro
Atlanta area is being hit hard by the severe drought in the
Southeast. Is it too much to ask that a few protected species
make a sacrifice for humans?
Lying just north of the metropolitan area is Lake Lanier, a
man-made reservoir that provides water for a region of 5
million. It was created when the Chattahoochee River, which
flows from the North Georgia mountains southward to the Gulf
of Mexico, was dammed in the 1950s by the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, which still operates the reservoir.
The lake is at the center of the worst drought the
Southeastern U.S. has ever experienced. A severe lack of rain
and federal law governing water flow from Lake Lanier have
combined to turn parts of Georgia, Alabama and Florida into
Despite some recent and forecasted rain, officials say Lake
Lanier's water level is down 10 feet and has less than 80 days
of water left to supply a thirsty metropolis.
But the endangered fat three-ridge and threatened purple
bankclimber, mussels that live downstream where the
Chattahoochee empties into Florida's
Chattahoochee-Apalachicola-Flint basin are getting plenty of
water, as are Gulf sturgeon. The Army Corps of Engineers makes
sure of this by pumping 3 billion gallons of water down the
river each day. We're only following federal law, they say.
That would be the 1973 Endangered Species Act. It's the
same law that cut off an irrigation project earlier this
decade along the California-Oregon border that 1,400 farmers
were counting on. In that case it was the coho salmon and
suckerfish in the Klamath River and Upper Klamath Lake that
received special treatment.
Certainly there are other interests beyond fish and mussels
involved in the Southeastern water fight. The drought's
effects go beyond the brown lawns, short showers, dirty cars,
parched throats, quick tempers and neighbors turning in
neighbors for using too much water.
The Gulf seafood industry wants the Corps to keep the water
rolling downstream. Atlanta developers are troubled that the
region's growth will suffer due to a lack of water.
Anti-development activists are encouraged. Soft drink makers
Coca-Cola and Pepsi will have to slow production if they can't
get enough of their main ingredient. A coal-fired power plant
in Florida needs water from a free-flowing Chattahoochee.
Along the river's path, cities and counties have grown
accustomed to the mountain water pouring down from Appalachia.
So have farmers. Few of those working the fields and carrying
forth in city halls care about the problems upstream in
Atlanta — but they should, because that metro area is the
economic engine for the region and jobs are at stake.
As disparate interests compete, often viciously, for a
precious resource, lawmakers from Georgia end up pitted
against lawmakers from Alabama and Florida.
Reasonable solutions for these differences can be reached
through the political and judicial processes. We're not so
sure, though, that the same can be said for problems created
by the ESA.
To environmentalists, the law is sacred. Don't expect them
to sit by quietly as the Georgia congressional delegation's
request to amend the ESA so that species protections can be
lifted during emergencies is considered in Washington, or the
courts consider the state's request for an injunction against
the Corps. Few in the green movement would choose drinking
water for humans over living conditions for animals further
down the food chain.
But the environmentalists' permission should not be
required. Their irrationality clouds what should be a rational
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