Policy drought: water resource management, urban growth, and technological solutions in post-world war II Atlanta
Hardy, Eric M.
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By the dawn of the twenty-first century the City of Atlanta was facing a crisis of water quantity and water quality. It was involved in two-decades worth of litigation with the states of Alabama and Florida over access to surface waters that originate within Georgia, a legal dispute that threatened to severely reduce the city’ ability to provide water to its growing metropolitan population. In addition, city officials were in the beginning stages of a four-billion dollar, court-ordered program of improvements to its wastewater infrastructure that was intended to reduce the amount of pollution that spewed into its local rivers and streams. This dissertation examines the origins of these water-related problems by exploring the challenges that Atlanta’s public officials, engineers, and activists faced in planning and implementing an effective environmental policy, with particular emphasis placed on the era of post-World War II metropolitan development. Specifically, it focuses on the city’s historical efforts to achieve the comprehensive management of the area’s water resources, the technological systems adopted and solutions proposed, and the political and social milieu that facilitated or hampered these endeavors. Comprehensive water resources management was a neglected and delayed policy approach that was undertaken in the City of Atlanta only after overt threats of federal intervention. This study argues that although the area’s mid-century regional planners advocated for intergovernmental cooperation in order to manage Atlanta’s limited water supplies, their recommendations were undermined by fragmented local governance, timid political leadership, and public indifference. It further suggests that Atlanta’s water supply managers, through increases in the scale and scope of their operations and a reluctance to increase customer rates, facilitated and encouraged greater water consumption, which, in turn, placed intense burdens on both the natural hydraulic cycle and the city’s wastewater facilities. Lastly, it argues the citizen activists as well as state and federal regulators have utilized the federal court system as a blunt planning instrument when Atlanta’s leaders displayed their seeming incapacity to handle the environmental strains of uncoordinated metropolitan development.