After three years of work, including participation by hundreds of professionals and concerned citizens, a final version of the Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Plan has been approved. Now it is time for the Georgia General Assembly to evaluate the plan, and decide if it is the best thing for Georgia. The issue is sure to gather a great deal of attention at the Capitol this session, and it should in Augusta, too.
Augusta is well aware of the importance of water, and we are blessed to have a strong, steady flow pass through our community -- a source of water that, with proper management, will allow for the continued growth of our region. But without a plan that includes all aspects of this complex system, the Savannah River will be unable to keep up with demand.
TO PLAN PROPERLY, Augusta needs data regarding the current and future use of the river; we need to have a venue to work across borders to coordinate efforts with the other communities that depend on the river; and we need a strong voice in those conversations. The proposed water plan provides many of the tools that will be needed to assure our needs are met, but it is important that Augusta does not take a back seat in the upcoming discussions regarding the issue.
The plan calls for a period of data collection directed by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. This will be critical. The lack of scientific knowledge about Georgia's waterways is stunning. We have been fortunate that the amount of water in our state has allowed us to go so long without having a better understanding of our rivers and streams, but that is no longer the case. To make smart decisions, we will need solid data; it will be important that this process is adequately funded, and that our community participate wholeheartedly in the process.
ONCE WE HAVE the needed data, we will need to work with those who share our resource to devise a plan to assure our shared environment, growth and quality of life. The proposed plan creates water planning regions that use county boundaries, but follow natural boundaries of river basins as closely. This is a great improvement of the previous proposal that drew criticism from the Augusta Metro Chamber and others across the state.
Our region starts at the northern border of the state and continues down the east side of the state until it meets the Coastal Region at Effingham County. The region also includes parts of the upper Ogeechee River basin but excludes Habersham County, which includes a small part of the Savannah River Basin but mainly lies in the Chattahoochee River basin.
The make-up of the individuals who will oversee the regional planning process also has been improved. Local elected officials are guaranteed a significant number of positions on the council. This makes sense, given that local government will have a major role in implementing any plan. The appointment power continues to rest with the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House to decide who sits on the 25-member councils. Should the plan be passed as proposed, Augusta will need to work closely with our legislators and the appointing officials to assure that we have proper representation. Another welcome addition is an advisory council that will guarantee seats to local governments from every county in a planning region.
THE PLAN IS lengthy, with many aspects. Growth, planning, economic health and prosperity all will be affected by the plan. The proposed plan will be considered by the Georgia General Assembly, which convenes Monday. Augusta needs to continue to be active in participating in the process as the plan works its way through the House and Senate, and on to the governor's desk. We need to make sure we are at the table every step of the way through the process of gathering data and creating regional bodies for water planning.
Most of all, we need to maintain focus during the planning process to make sure Augusta will have the water resources it needs.
(The writer is president and CEO of the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.)