ATLANTA - Gov. Roy Barnes unveiled a proposed water-management strategy for the Atlanta area Monday that could become a model for how the issue is approached in other parts of Georgia.
The governor's bill would create a Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District to oversee projects in an 18-county region aimed at reducing stormwater runoff, increasing sewage-treatment capacity, improving water quality and boosting water conservation efforts.
"For decades, as (the Atlanta) region grew at an explosive rate, we took it for granted that we would have an unlimited supply of clean water," Mr. Barnes said during a news conference. "But today, I'm here to tell you we can no longer take our water supply for granted. And I am determined that our well will not run dry."
But the bill figures to draw opposition from two directions as it makes its way through the General Assembly. Environmental advocates already are criticizing it as too weak to accomplish the goals Mr. Barnes laid out for it Monday, while some local officials are expected to object to the power the measure would give to the district's board.
The new board's job would be to develop regional plans to achieve the goals set down in the legislation. The state Environmental Protection Division would have approval power over those plans, which then would be carried out by local governments.
Mr. Barnes said 15 of the board's 25 members would be local elected officials from the counties within the proposed district, including 10 chief county elected officials and five mayors.
"Local governments will have the strongest voice in guiding the water planning district because they have already built much of the infrastructure we seek to improve," he said.
But Jennifer Giegerich, an advocate for the Georgia Public Interest Research Group, said that would bear too much resemblance to the Atlanta Regional Commission, a planning agency that also is controlled by local elected officials.
Two years ago, Mr. Barnes steered a bill through the legislature creating the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority in large part because the ARC had not solved the region's transportation problems.
"It's setting itself up for failure being heavily modeled after the ARC," Ms. Giegerich said. "We've seen that there's not a lot of action that can come out a planning situation like that."
But Chris DeVinney, a lobbyist for the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said local officials realize they can't afford to ignore the area's water-quality problems.
"It's too big an issue and holds too much importance for the health and safety of residents and the continued economic prosperity of the region," she said.
Environmentalists also are wary that by being limited to metro Atlanta, the proposed district would take in portions of five of Georgia's watersheds or drainage basin but not address one entire watershed.
"Even looking only at the Atlanta region ... you can think hard about how to make the people of the watersheds fully involved in how water is going to be managed in their own watersheds," said John Sibley, that president of The Georgia Conservancy. "I'm not clear that that's going to be done well enough here."
Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424.
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