MARIETTA, Ga. -- Gov. Nathan Deal chose a business luncheon in his honor Monday to sign legislation the host group had lobbied for as a way to simplify commercial arrangements for water systems.
The Georgia Chamber of Commerce had originally planned the event for the afternoon of Deal's inauguration until a snowstorm forced its postponement. The delay changed it from a welcome to a thank you.
The chamber proposed Senate Bill 122 and actively lobbied for it. Deal said he signed because it follows the same concept of public/private partnerships that results in toll roads.
"We think that it allows us to stretch public dollars by combining it with private resources and be able to do the kinds of things we know we're going to have to do in order to have the water for our business development as well as our individual and residential uses," the governor said.
The bill relaxes some contracting requirements on local government so they can negotiate deals with companies for the construction and operation of water infrastructure like treatment plants, wells and reservoirs.
Most environmental groups opposed the bill, but its sponsor, Senate Natural Resources Chairman Ross Tolleson, said at the luncheon that critics need to recognize the risk to Georgia's economy if ample water isn't available for industrial growth.
"Everybody in the economy is tied together," said Tolleson, R-Perry. "We are one state with one economic engine."
Tim Lowe, president of Lowe Engineers, chair of the Georgia Chamber's Environment and Energy Committee and co-chair of the Water Contingency Task Force called the legislation timely in helping the state grow and replace water from Lake Lanier that a federal court ruled off limits.
"By allowing for the construction of new reservoirs and other important water projects currently delayed due to budgetary constraints, we can ensure communities throughout the state that they will have access to this critical resource," Lowe said.