By Atlanta Business Chronicle

Georgiaâ¿¿s water needs should be solved through sharing rather than pitting metro Atlanta against other parts of the state, leaders of three river-based environmental groups said Thursday.

Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Inc., the Coosa River Basin Initiative and Flint Riverkeeper called on the stateâ¿¿s gubernatorial candidates to support a new direction on water that would de-emphasize building reservoirs and piping water from one river basin to another in favor of stepped-up water conservation and protecting downstream cities from inter-basin transfers.

⿿We can⿿t just engineer our way out of this,⿝ said Sally Bethea, Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper⿿s executive director.

The groups released an alternative water plan to mark the one-year anniversary of a federal court decision siding with Alabama and Florida over Georgia in a tri-state water dispute that began two decades ago.

On July 17, 2009, U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled illegal virtually all water withdrawals from Lake Lanier, which he declared was not built as a water supply.

He gave the three states three years to work out a water-sharing agreement.

If the case isnâ¿¿t settled by July 2012, under the order, withdrawals from Lanier would be reduced to levels not seen since the mid-1970s.

During the year since the decision, Gov. Sonny Perdue and state lawmakers have enacted the most comprehensive water conservation law in Georgia history.

But Bethea said it doesnâ¿¿t go far enough. The environmental groups called for stricter water-saving measures, including requiring low-flow plumbing fixtures in all buildings. The new law applies the mandate only to new construction.

The environmentalists also oppose building costly new reservoirs and support legislation clamping additional restrictions on inter-basin transfers.

Joe Cook, executive director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative, said plans to tap into river systems in parts of the state where water is abundant to supply the rapidly growing Atlanta region is considered ⿿grand theft⿝ in cities like Augusta and Columbus and viewed with mistrust in the other states.

⿿The governor who is willing to make a stand on inter-basin transfers to protect downstream communities is going to be best positioned to solve our conflicts with Alabama and Florida,⿝ he said.

Gordon Rogers, executive director of Flint Riverkeeper, said the groups agree with the governorâ¿¿s push to convince Congress to authorize using Lake Lanier as a water supply.

⿿[But] that cannot be done in an atmosphere where downstreamers don⿿t trust the motives of metro [Atlanta],⿝ he said.

Copyright 2010 American City Business Journals

Copyright 2010