Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Legislature Shows Unprecedented Support for Fair and Equitable Sharing Of Georgia Water‏

While Georgia’s water wars wage on against Alabama and Florida, a new front has arisen within the state’s boundaries as legislators concerned about ensuring water for all Georgia communities introduced bills this week seeking to regulate interbasin transfers.

House Bill 1301, the River Basin Protection Act of 2010, sponsored by Representative Tom McCall, Representative Alan Powell and 64 other representatives, would establish a system for regulating interbasin water transfers of 100,000 gallons or more, without prohibiting them. The Senate’s version, SB 462, is sponsored by Senator Jim Butterworth and Senator Preston Smith and 22 other senators.

The growing support for regulation of interbasin transfers has been fueled by recent proposals to pipe water to Metro Atlanta from as far away as Lake Burton in Rabun County and wells in South Georgia.

“Roughly half the Senate signed on,” said Senator Smith who represents portions of North Georgia impacted by a water transfer from the Coosa River Basin into to Metro Atlanta out of the Coosa River Basin. “It’s increasingly important as Atlanta’s need grows....we want to help solve that problem, but we want to do it in a way that protects the Coosa and other basins.”

Support for the measures is also growing among citizens, local chambers of commerce and river protection groups. More than 2,000 people have signed an online petition urging Governor Perdue and the General Assembly to adopt the legislation. The petition was organized by the Georgia Water Coalition, a consortium of more than 170 groups working to protect the state’s rivers. The supporters come from more than 200 communities across the state. The petition can be viewed at

Supporters of the bill call the state’s existing laws regulating interbasin transfers weak. Under current law, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), which issues water withdrawal permits from rivers, need only issue a press release seven days before approving a permit involving an interbasin transfer.

The River Basin Protection Act keeps the existing prohibition on water transfers into the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District and creates a list of criteria for EPD to consider in evaluating whether to issue a permit for an interbasin transfer. These criteria are similar to the criteria found in the statewide water plan for donor and receiving river basins. Both Tennessee and South Carolina have similar state laws regarding interbasin transfers.

The Act also would codify the concept of a safe yield, which is used by engineers to determine the amount of water available for withdrawal without impairing the biological, chemical or physical integrity of the water source. The bill also expands the public notice requirements, and exempts agricultural land, mining processes and distribution of products containing water from the need to obtain an interbasin transfer permit.

Supporters include locally elected officials and planners working to develop regional water plans.

“Interbasin transfers fundamentally and irreversibly alter the natural flows in our rivers and streams and can harm the long-term prosperity and quality of life of the basin of origin,” said Ron Cross, a Columbia County Commissioner and chair of the Savannah-Upper Ogeechee Regional Water Council.

Water planners in Northwest Georgia and Southwest Georgia have also expressed opposition to interbasin transfers.

“The state of Georgia should be encouraging growth and economic development in areas that have water resources to sustain such growth,” said Richard Royal, a former state representative from Camilla and chair of the Lower Flint-Ochlocknee Regional Water Council. “The state should share the development opportunities with these regions and not entertain proposals to transfer water from one region to another especially when other regions have not exercised good water stewardship.”

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