Charles Seabrook writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Federal water experts have presented data suggesting that metro Atlanta is taking all the water that Lake Lanier and the Chattahoochee River can provide, decades before it was forecast to have reached that limit.

If the assessment is verified by data being collected and analyzed in coming weeks, it could halt new development in the region. Metropolitan Atlanta would have to stop growing, or enact tougher conservation measures, or find new sources of water.

South Carolina and Tennessee have warned there will be major battles if Atlanta tries to tap the Savannah or Tennessee river systems. And residents around Lake Allatoona say they would fight efforts to draw more water from their lake for the metro region.

State environmental officials had predicted that metro Atlanta would not use up Lanier and the Chattahoochee until 2030. Officials with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division insist this projection is still sound. But new water use data presented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suggest the region already is close to reaching — or in some cases exceeding — the predicted 2030 levels.

The corps said metro Atlanta, which grew from 3 million residents in 1990 to 4.1 million in 2000, actually exceeded expected water use for 2030 during some of 1999 and 2000.Water use projections are complicated by the fact they must take into account not just stream withdrawals into drinking water systems, but also discharges from sewage systems. Consumption also can fluctuate with weather conditions — residents may water their lawns more during droughts, for example.

The corps, which regulates flow in the Chattahoochee by releases from Lanier, must maintain at least 750 cubic feet per second at Peachtree Creek to dilute wastewater and sustain fish and other aquatic life.

George William Sherk, a Virginia lawyer and water expert, says Georgia officials’ more optimistic interpretation of water data is lulling the state into a false sense of complacency over Atlanta’s water supply.

Art Holbrook, head of the West Point Lake Congressional Task Force in LaGrange, says,”It’s really sad to think that Atlanta will run out of water long ahead of time.”

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