The (dehydrated) Big Peach

Ana Nico writes*

Metropolitan Atlanta has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Recent projections suggest an increase equivalent to the current population of Denver of 2.9 million residents by 2050. Population growth and associated high demands for water are revealing increasing insecurities for water supply as the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority projects that within the next fifteen years, demand could increase from 201.5 to 311.6 million gallons per day in Fulton county.

Meanwhile, the warm climate and rising temperatures have made the city particularly vulnerable to droughts. Several initiatives have been launched to remedy the present shortcomings in the water management system and to ensure a steady supply to the city. Initiatives range from harvesting rainwater to the construction of tunnels to transport water up to a new reservoir. These initiatives, launched by the City of Atlanta Department of Watershed Management, a public utility service and regulator for the city, have been few and far between.

The city of Atlanta relies on the Chattahoochee River for supply. The water is sourced through two reservoirs: Lake Lanier and Allatoona Lake. This water produces 70% of the supply for drinking, hydropower, industry, and agriculture despite being one of the smallest watersheds in the country. The issue which arises today is that high population growth increases the demand for water, while increasing droughts threaten supply. Further complicating the supply of water, the Chattahoochee River Basin provides water downstream to Georgia’s neighboring states of Florida and Alabama. If water usage continues to increase in Atlanta, an ongoing tri-state dispute on water would simply be amplified.

Parallel to emerging challenges, a case is ongoing before the Supreme court of Justice between the State of Florida and Georgia over water use. This battle, which has sprawled over two decades, has led Florida to seek legal means for a cap on Georgia’s extraction of water from the Chattahoochee River. This is the second time that the case appears before the Supreme Court where the state of Georgia’s leading argument is that metropolitan Atlanta is dependent on the current extraction levels. The case, starting on the 22nd of February, is likely to pose additional barriers to the provision of water to the city.

* Please help my Water Scarcity students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice 🙂

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

2 thoughts on “The (dehydrated) Big Peach”

  1. Hey Ana Nico, I really enjoyed reading your blogpost. First of all, one question I have is that in wake of the increased population and water consumption in Atlanta, how does the per capita usage compare with other metropolitan areas in the US? I don’t know the yearly precipitation of Atlanta, but the potential shortages made me ponder is the water gathered and distributed efficiently. Because in the place where I grow up, the yearly precipitation is more than double than that of the Netherlands (2.500mm) but it still experience water shortages. As we learned in class, reducing consumption is all about supply and demand. Due to climate change, the water supply of Atlanta could be extremely unstable. And you briefly mentioned some of the initiatives proposed by the city, do you see the potential of treated waste water and groundwater supply?

    1. Hi Ian! Thank you for your comment. I found very different numbers on per capita consumption for Atlanta but the trend shows a significant decrease in consumption over the years and generally lower numbers than in the rest of the country. This is partially due to huge nudging campaigns and increased water regulations during drought periods.
      In terms of precipitation, your point is correct! Atlanta has a relatively normal precipitation level but it is quite irregular. The droughts in this case are a result of both meteorological and socio-economic factors. Climate change will definitely exacerbate the present supply shortage which has been caused by overconsumption and unsustainable demand. Finally, the issue I see with treating groundwater is that there is very little within Atlanta so such a measure may not yield enough supply to fulfill current demands. Treating wastewater is a potential solution (which is already being done at quite a high level), however. Let me know if you have any further questions.

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