Water transfers concern area leaders

Some local leaders are concerned over language in Georgia's Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Plan that could allow interbasin transfers of surface water.

 

"We're watching that particular aspect of the water plan very carefully," said Scott MacGregor, vice president of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.

The concern, he said, is that a policy allowing water to be removed from one part of the state for use by residents elsewhere could lead to the use of the Savannah River to supply fast-growing Atlanta.

"There are longstanding concerns in this community that the Savannah River could be tapped to supply areas that are distinctly outside this basin," he said.

The statewide plan, currently in draft form and undergoing public hearings across the state, includes language that would authorize such transfers under tightly controlled situations:

Under the plan, interbasin transfers would be allowed "as long as the transfer does not unduly unreasonably foreclose opportunities for water use in the donor basin."

Mayor Deke Copenhaver noted that- even with such language - it would be difficult for Atlanta to get water from the Savannah River.

"My stance has always been that growth should follow the resource and not vice versa," he said. "To pipe water out of the Savannah River to allow other cities, particularly Atlanta, to grow at Augusta's expense is not a good idea."

Tapping the Savannah was one long-range option studied for metro Atlanta in 2000, when the Army Corps of Engineers began work on a comprehensive study of the region's water supplies.

Today, however, such a strategy is unlikely because it would be against the law, said Nap Caldwell, water planning and policy adviser for the Environmental Protection Division.

A 2001 law lumped 16 metro-Atlanta counties into a single planning district and prohibited any of those jurisdictions from executing interbasin transfers, Mr. Caldwell said.

However, Mr. Caldwell acknowledged, the language in the current plan could allow transfers outside the Atlanta district.

Unlike most Georgia rivers, the Savannah is a resource shared by South Carolina, which is already suing neighboring North Carolina over a proposed interbasin transfer on the Catawba River.

South Carolina authorities are watching the progress of Georgia's water plan but are not involved in its development, said David Wilson, chief of the state Department of Health and Environmental Control's Bureau of Water.

"We already allow and permit interbasin transfers of water here in South Carolina, so it's not like we'd be in a position to tell other states they shouldn't allow interbasin transfers," he said.

The main issue, he said, is the ability of the states to work together in deciding how to share the resource.

The litigation with North Carolina, he said, occurred because South Carolina wasn't given adequate input into North Carolina's decisions.

"With Georgia and South Carolina, luckily, at least so far, we do have a commission appointed by both governors of people sitting down together and talking about those issues."

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

IF YOU GO

What: The Georgia Water Council will hold a public hearing to discuss its Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Plan.

When: 6 p.m. Monday

Where: Augusta Technical College Information Technology Center, 3200 Augusta Tech Drive

Info: View the complete plan online: www.georgiawatercouncil.org


WHAT'S NEXT?

The Georgia Water Council will recommend the proposed plan for consideration by the General Assembly on the first day of the 2008 session.