Gov. Nathan Deal gave his final approval this week to Georgia’s Statewide Water Plan, which outlines future water supply strategies for all areas of the state, including the Savannah River and its varied stakeholders.
The plan, a combination of 10 region-specific plans devised during a yearlong series of meetings, was designed to establish a sustainable water supply for all residents and to identify funding sources to accomplish those goals.
For the Augusta area, the planning effort was conducted by the Savannah-Upper Ogeechee Water Planning Council, led by Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross.
Despite perennial concerns over interbasin transfers to Atlanta and the legal complexities associated with sharing the river with neighboring South Carolina, the local council concluded the Augusta area has ample water supplies through at least 2050.
Even with a huge anticipated population surge, east Georgia already fares better than many parts of the state in surface water supplies and opportunities to extract groundwater, local planners concluded.
The local plan does identify challenges that will require attention in coming years, such as wastewater loads into the rivers and the politically delicate task of sharing a limited wasteload allocation with South Carolina.
In general, the final version of the plan turned out very well for local stakeholders, said Tonya Bontatibus, of Savannah Riverkeeper.
“I think we have the best-laid plan out of all the ones around the state, and I think a lot of that has to do with the open forums and the way these meetings were held,” she said.
One of the plan’s accomplishments was to demonstrate the need to keep existing resources in this region.
Using a regional task force approach also allowed more dialogue on topics such as sharing the river with South Carolina, and its very public format provided many residents with a better education about future water needs and priorities.
“Yes, of course there were things that may not have gone exactly as we’d have liked, but the education process was very powerful, and now South Carolina has a water task force, too, which is fantastic,” Bontatibus said.
The statewide plan will provide about $300 million for water supply projects during the next four years, according to a statement from Deal’s office. Local governments can begin applying for funding in the form of loans or grants early in January.