The Southeast is thirsty. Because of a record drought, Atlanta now has 87 days of drinking water left if rain doesn't fall soon. Raleigh, N.C., has 97 days. Some restaurants in Atlanta aren't offering drinking water unless asked. Farmers in North Carolina are so low on hay that they've begun selling cattle. And dams along the Savannah River have gotten to such low levels this summer they've fallen short of generating the hydropower promised to help keep the region's air conditioners blasting.
Most of the blame at the moment is falling squarely on historically low rainfall. But an equally important culprit has been the unbridled growth of the Southeast in the past 50 years. The region's abundance of cheap water has long fueled development. Now economists fear that the parched earth could become the most important constraint on the region's growth. "Even if the current drought ended tomorrow, we'd still be facing a crisis 12 to 15 years from now," says Sam A. Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Williams is in the midst of a battle for more water from the Army Corps of Engineers and is pushing for a statewide water management plan.We need a Corps of Population Engineers to solve the long term problem of unfettered population growth.