ATLANTA - Environmental and economic repercussions across Georgia are likely to result from the search for solutions to the Atlanta area's water-quality problems, members of a new committee of business and political leaders said Thursday.
The Clean Water Initiative Task Force held the first of a series of meetings planned for the next four months to look for ways to head off a crisis that threatens to halt growth in the booming region. A similar effort spearheaded by Atlanta's business community two years ago to address traffic congestion led to state legislation creating the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.
The task force will examine the stress the area's growth has put on the wastewater treatment capacity of river systems, which has resulted in moratoriums on new sewer hookups in some communities. Beyond giant factories or sewage plants, the panel also will focus on more common and harder-to-police sources of pollution, such as worsening stormwater runoff from paved parking lots and roads, fertilizers, pesticides and construction sites.
"Our growth and prosperity have come with a price," said Bill Dahlberg, chairman and CEO of the Southern Co. and the task force's chairman. "Our water quality is deteriorating... This can stop the economic prosperity and quality of life we have here."
Harold Reheis, director of the state Environmental Protection Division, noted that metro-Atlanta contains seven river systems, from the Oconee in the region's northeastern corner to the Ocmulgee, which drains into Lake Jackson, southeast of the city.
"In all directions downstream from metro-Atlanta ... these rivers and streams are feeling the impacts (of Atlanta's growth)," he said.
State Senate Minority Leader Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, one of the few on the 34-member panel who isn't from the Atlanta area, said any recommendations the task force makes on stormwater runoff could end up in statewide regulations.
"Savannah, Augusta and Macon are also feeling the same issues, like stormwater runoff," he said. "What we learn here and apply here will affect the outlying communities that aren't in the emergency state that Atlanta is in."
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