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Columnist: Here we go again with a low lake level

On Tuesday June 7, 2016, the headline in the LaGrange Daily News was “‘Deep concerns’ held about shallow lake.”

Isn’t it ironic that just a few months ago we were above full pool which is 635 feet above sea level due to very heavy rainfalls in November and December 2015. However the Corps released billions of gallons of water to take the lake down to 628 because of their unfounded concerns of heavy April rains, which in the past I have called “mythological.”

If they had kept it at full pool or even taken it down to another suggestion of 632.5 do you think we would be reading the June 7 LDN headline?

There have been similar articles printed over the past 30 years despite massive local efforts to change ridiculous rules by which the Army Corps of Engineers manages the Chattahoochee River and the lakes on it including our lake. The very condensed history that follows should give you an appreciation of our efforts and what I consider to be classic bureaucratic indifference.

Early into my tenure as a legislator the water wars among Georgia, Florida and Alabama were at a fever pitch. It quickly became obvious our Georgia negotiating team was favoring the Atlanta metro so LaGrange/Troup contracted with Dr. Aris Georgakakos, a world renown water expert, to scientifically prove our position.

We also contracted with Jerry Sherk a water wars lawyer whose testimony proved to me that the Corps was/is clearly in violation of the Congressional mandate of maintaining this lake for recreational purposes along with the other authorized purposes.

Another battle was with the Corps about fluctuating levels caused by barge traffic. At a meeting led by Dr. Art Holbrook and attended by about 1,000 our research findings were presented and a petition with about 10,000 signatures calling for a minimum level of 632.5 feet was given to the Corps.

Additionally there were numerous meetings with the Congressmen who have represented us, Sen. Isakson, three governors, Brigadier Gen. Joe Shroedel, Maj. General Todd Semonite and various colonels who have come through the Mobile office of the Corps where they control the flow out of West Point Lake.

Also, there have been trips to Washington to visit our elected officials and a high up in the Department of Interior. Also, Congressman Westmoreland held a Congressional subcommittee hearing here about the lake level problem. Further, the city and county contracted with Mark Crisp a well-respected water consultant.

In 2006 the Chamber created the West Point Lake Advisory Committee. Through the contributions of hundreds we raised $250,000 and did an economic impact study as well as a scientific study. The economic study showed this area losses about $400 million per year by the way the lake levels are maintained versus not going below 632.5 feet, which the Corps admits is the level below which the recreational use of the lake is negatively impacted.

The Corps has buckled to many demands but none of ours for more water upstream and downstream of West Point Lake. They have decided on their own to take water from West Point Lake to address these demands which include power generation, the Fish and Wildlife Service with their unproven flow requirements for mussels and sturgeon — how did they survive when there were no lakes on the Chattahoochee? — agricultural uses, and to sustain higher water levels at lakes Lanier, Seminole and George.

The Corps did this by sacrificing West Point Lake so our lake that was promised to us for recreational purposes has frequently been impaired for same. This has not been done by elected officials in Congress, but by the Corps of Engineers.

I could go on but suffice it to say we have gone way beyond the point of reasonableness, have peacefully engaged everyone with any authority, know more than any other group involved including the Corps, have proven scientifically that the lake can be operated by not going below 632.5 feet except in severe droughts and proven that hundreds of millions of dollars of losses each year are caused by low lake levels.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same things but expecting different results. I think it is fair to say the above approaches have not worked!

Let me contrast the total failure of the above with how pollution in West Point Lake has been significantly reduced. State Rep. Wade Milam got legislation passed to remove phosphates. State Sen. Steve Langford sponsored Senate Bill 200, which when passed imposed fines on the city of Atlanta when they polluted the Chattahoochee.

This was followed by a class action law suit paid for by cities and counties, including LaGrange and Troup County, negatively effected by Atlanta’s very outdated sewage system. We won this federal lawsuit and over the past 14 years or so Atlanta has been spending well over $1 billion — yes, billion — to significantly improve their sewage system resulting in much cleaner water coming to our lake.

So what’s the answer? One possibility is to get legislation passed, but I think a more effective action would be to sue!!! If you agree, write to Mayor Thornton, Troup County Commission Chair Crews, letters to the editor and to your other elected officials.

Finally, learn more and don’t let up on the pressure for more effective responses!

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Jeff Brown

Contributing columnist

Jeff Brown is a retired Georgia state representative where he served as former chairman West Point Lake Advisory Committee. He may be reached at jeffwarnerbrown@gmail.com.