Atlanta Can't Blame Climate Change for Drought

Jared Wade


December 1, 2009

A multi-year drought from 2005 to 2008 across the southwestern United States created a political firestorm throughout the greater Atlanta metro area as water shortages became dire, crops were destroyed and climate change was identified as something that would have severe consequences on the region going forward.

According to scientists from the University of Columbia, however, climate change was just a red herring and the region's real problems are rooted in a booming population and urban sprawl. "The drought that caused so much trouble was pathetically normal and short, far less than what the climate system is capable of generating," said lead author Richard Seager, a climate modeler. "People were saying that this was a 100-year drought, but it was pretty run-of-the-mill. The problem is, in the last 10 years, population has grown phenomenally, and hardly anyone, including the politicians, has been paying any attention."

At the drought's peak, Atlanta's main reservoir, Lake Lanier, was more than 14 feet below its previous level, and water usage restrictions were mandated. But it seems that Mother Nature is not to blame. Instead, the region must learn to manage a population that grew from 6.5 million people in 1990 to 9.5 million by 2007.

Jared Wade is a freelance writer and a former editor of Risk Management.

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