Tuesday, January 8, 2008

State water plan approved, moves on to General Assembly

Posted By on Tue, Jan 8, 2008 at 9:00 PM


After three years of changes, edits and debate, the Georgia Water Council unanimously passed the state's first comprehensive water plan this morning. According to the approved plan, the state will be divided into 12 water-planning districts drawn along county lines and each served by 25 council members.

The statewide water plan has been the subject of scrutiny and debate since its inception, and the outrage protested by the environmental community was joined by editorial boards and elected officials outside of Atlanta after a last-minute edit by the EPD that drew water-planning districts by county lines rather than natural watersheds. Critics claimed that one region could draw from many different watersheds, potentially upsetting the natural supply. Critics of the plan also voiced concern about the council's member-selection process, as the ultimate appointments would be decided by the governor, lieutenant governor and the House speaker.

Members of the Water Council signed off on a plan that wiggled just a tad: Of the 25 members in each water-planning district, 13 would be selected by the governor and six each by the lieutenant governor and House speaker. Of those members, at least eight would have to be a locally elected official, such as either a county commissioner, mayor or council member.

Water-planning districts are based around watersheds, but notice my use of the plural form. The Metropolitan North Georgia Water District, the 16-county entity that oversees the metro region's water management, sits on five watersheds. The approved plan's critics have labeled this tactic as just another move by metro Atlanta to sustain its notorious growth. One environmentalist told me today that until the district is broken up, there will be no equitable water-sharing strategy in Georgia.

Yet EPD Director Carol Couch, who is chairwoman of the Georgia Water Council, says the plan has teeth and will be enforced. During comments with reporters after the vote, Couch said she was "mystified" by critics of the plan who claim that it just allows for more water for metro Atlanta.

Members of organizations such as the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Poultry Association and the Georgia Traditional Manufacturers Association all voiced their support of the plan and agreed it was the best possible solution.

Jennette Gayer of Environment Georgia applauded the council for its hard work and dedication, but stated that the plan was vague and did not meet her group's and the Georgia Water Coalition's recommendations for a sound water plan, which included downstream community protection, provided adequate funding for implementation, laid out sound conservation strategies, ensured water quality, and would have been based on public input and enacted locally.

"This plan reads like a plan to make another plan," Gayer said.

Joe Maltese of the Middle Chattahoochee Water Coalition said the plan concerned him because district boundaries were based on political rather than nature's design.

"Mother Nature formed boundaries," he said to the council. "And no matter what we do to form political boundaries, Mother Nature will always win."

The plan will now be delivered to the General Assembly, where the legislative body can either approve it, concoct its own, or send it back to the Water Council for revision. If approved as is, it would be passed as a resolution. In other words, it would not be law, but policy.

The approved plan has not been posted yet, but I'll provide a link once it comes online.

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