ATLANTA - State environmental regulators must step up monitoring of water quality if they are to gain the knowledge needed to develop an effective plan for managing Georgia's water supplies, advocates for local governments, water companies and environmental groups said Tuesday.
"We don't know in this state truly how much water we have, its current condition or what its condition will be," Chris DeVinney, a lobbyist for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, told members of the Clean Water Initiative, a business-led task force looking for ways to improve water quality.
"Without good measurements, we don't know where we are," added John Sibley, chairman of the Georgia Conservancy. "With good measurements, we can set clear goals. We've got to do better with monitoring."
Tuesday's presentations by various "stakeholders" in the water-quality issue were the first public input for the 37-member task force, which began meeting in May. The panel will take comments from the public at a hearing next month.
The task force was organized by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce primarily to examine water quality in that region. But the recommendations it is due to hand Gov. Roy Barnes this fall could lead to legislation affecting all of Georgia, just as residents throughout the state have been hit with watering restrictions in the wake of the severe drought.
Several speakers asked the panel to push for an increase in the state Environmental Protection Division's budget that would allow the agency to beef up its monitoring efforts.
The state budget that took effect at the beginning of this month includes $1.8 million to fund an additional 50 positions, with about two-thirds of those slots dedicated to water quality. EPD Director Harold Reheis had requested 60, and he's made it clear he will come back before the governor and General Assembly to ask for more.
"I think we've done a pretty good job over the years, but ... we need more horsepower," Mr. Reheis said after Tuesday's meeting. "We've got a big state that has gone from the 11th largest population at the end of the 1990 census to probably the ninth largest after this one is done. The competition for water and the need to manage it well is going to get more and more serious as we go on."
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