I applaud the efforts of Mayor Jeff Lukken and Commission Chair Ricky Wolf to get higher lake levels on West Point Lake. They are joined by long time lake advocate Dick Timmerberg and his West Point Lake Coalition along with the Chamber’s West Point Lake Advisory Committee. Further the LaGrange Daily News ran an excellent editorial in support of this. However there is just one problem summarized by the phrase ” been there, done that. The very condensed history that follows should prove that and prove we have already done far more than this.
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 to scientifically prove our position. We also contracted with Jerry Sherk a water wars lawyer whose testimony proved to me 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 some caused by barge traffic. At a meeting led by Dr Art Holbrook and attended by about 1000 our research findings were presented and a petition with about 10,000 signatures calling for a minimum level of 632.5 ft was given to the Corps.
There were numerous meetings with the Congressmen who have represented us, Senator Isakson, Brigadier General Joe Shroedel, Major 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. Congressman Westmoreland held a Congressional Sub Committee hearing here about the lake level problem. More recently the City and County have paid for 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 ft 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, agricultural uses, and to sustain higher water levels at Lakes Lanier, Seminole, and George. The Corps did this by creating un-natural high flows along the river in areas that otherwise would be much drier, and to do so they sacrificed West Point Lake. The result has been that the lake that was promised to the citizens of this region for recreational purposes has been taken away not 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 and proven the hundreds of millions of dollars of losses each year caused by low lake levels. The result of all of this was clearly demonstrated over the past few months with some of the lowest lake levels ever! THIS APPROACH DOES NOT WORK!
Let me contrast the total failure of the above with how we are well on the way to solving the issue of pollution in the Chattahoochee. Senator Langford sponsored Senate Bill 200 which when passed imposed fines on the City of Atlanta. This was followed by a class action law suit paid for 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 10 years or so Atlanta has been spending well over $1 billion (yes billion) to significantly improve their sewage system resulting in much cleaner water in our lake.
So what’s the answer? In one word SUE!!! If you agree write to Mayor Lukken, Troup County Commission Chair Wolf, letters to the editor and to your Congressman and Senators. Finally learn more and don’t let up on the pressure to sue.
Rep Jeff Brown (Ret)
Former Chairman West Point Lake Advisory Committee