Georgia's first-ever water management plan, which is designed to prevent a repeat of the historic drought conditions the state currently faces, passed its first hurdle in the state legislature. The plan was approved by the Senate and sent to the House of Representatives.
Initially approved there on Jan. 18, it hit something of a wall when Rep. Mark Hatfield, R-Waycross, requested a vote to reconsider when the House reconvenes on Monday, Jan. 28, presumably to give opponents time to lobby for its defeat. The Brunswick, Ga., News reported that Hatfield questions whether the plan will protect the southern and coastal parts of the state from having its water supply siphoned off by major metropolitan areas, which, in Georgia, means metropolitan Atlanta.
The plan addresses such diverse water issues as:
Protecting water quality by reducing pollution and run-off,
Managing transfers between water basins,
Conserving and reusing water,
Water needs for hydropower, industry and navigation,
Environmental protection, and
Building and maintaining reservoirs.
Legislators, presented with the plan on Jan. 15, had two options: approve it as written or reject it and start over. The plan was ordered by legislation passed in the 2004; the Georgia Water Council created to draft the plan has been fine-tuning the document and gathering public input since the initial draft was released in the summer of 2007.
The Home Builders Association of Georgia (HBAG) has been involved in many of those meetings, and support the plan as it was presented to the legislature.
"It's been a concerted effort on the part of a whole lot of people," says Ed Phillips, HBAG executive president. "It's the first time we've had that -- to get a lot of people to the table. It's monumental. We're very proud of it."
One example of how the process worked well, Phillips says, is that initially, the plan identified septic tanks as consumptive devices that use water, and was considering banning them -- a move that would have been devastating to building in the state's more rural areas. With the testimony of environmentalists and university professors who told the Georgia Water Council that septic tanks are non-consumptive, that provision was removed, Phillips says.
The plan has the support of Gov. Sonny Perdue, who has pledged $120 million in low-interest loans to local governments for water projects, with the bulk of that going to building reservoirs and improving water systems. In addition, Perdue earmarked $11.1 million in existing federal and state resources to begin work on a three-year study to determine how much water the state has available for human use without damaging the waterways, and to project future needs.
The plan, which seeks to protect the state's water supply while addressing the water needs for anticipated growth, has its share of opponents. A coalition of 150 environmental, civic, and recreational groups has said that the plan should require conservation efforts first before building new reservoirs, and divides upstream users by those downstream from metropolitan Atlanta.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the state's largest newspaper, has opposed the plan, calling it "diluted almost to the point of uselessness" by revisions to its original language. Specifically, it has raised concerns about the current proposal for 11 regional water councils organized by man-made service delivery districts that have "virtually nothing to do with water planning," the paper says. The original plan called for 14 districts roughly aligned with the state's 14 watersheds, which are drainage basins that feed into major bodies of water. The paper also has questioned the membership of the water district councils, whose members are to be appointed by state politicians, and what it sees as a failure to sufficiently stress conservation and enforcement over communities that don't properly manage their resources. To read the entire plan, visit www.georgiawatercouncil.org
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