Originally created 05/17/02

Panel weighs water control



ROME, Ga. - The state should not ban the siphoning of water from parts of Georgia with a plentiful supply to thirsty high-growth areas such as metro Atlanta, a key member of a legislative study committee said Thursday.

However, environmental regulators should be very stingy in approving such inter-basin transfers, said Boyd Austin, mayor of Dallas, Ga., and chairman of a subcommittee working on the issue.

"Interbasin transfers are not something we can do away with completely," Mr. Austin told members of the study panel, created by the General Assembly last year to lay the groundwork for a comprehensive statewide water-management plan. "But we want to make it such a tight process that whoever wants it has to demonstrate that they've exhausted all other means."

Mr. Austin's comments came during one of four presentations from smaller groups formed to focus on aspects of their mission.

The "working groups" outlined wide-ranging options, from doing nothing to creating a new state agency to develop a statewide water plan and enforce its provisions.

The groups will hammer out final reports to present in July to the full committee. The panel will begin considering its final report in early August, and make recommendations to the Legislature just before Sept. 1, the deadline set by the General Assembly.

"We're at the peak of information at this point," Jim Kundell of the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government, told the panel. "From here on, it'll be whittling down information to get to the recommendations."

Political and business leaders upstream and downstream of the Atlanta area are worried that one of the nation's fastest growing regions will try to reach beyond the narrow Chattahoochee River basin in the near future to augment its water supply through interbasin transfers.

"We need to make sure interbasin transfers are the last resort for needy places," said Scott MacGregor, vice president of community development for the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce. "We're not just willy-nilly going to subsidize their water use."

Waterways cited frequently as potential targets include Lake Allatoona and the Savannah and Tennessee rivers.

Just this week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presented data suggesting that during parts of 1999 and 2000, metro Atlanta exceeded water-use levels it was not expected to hit before 2030. That is the year the region is projected to have exhausted its current sources of water, forcing it to look for new supplies, put stricter conservation measures in place or stop growing.

Although the subcommittee working on interbasin transfers is far from reaching a consensus, it is considering strict criteria for permit applicants to meet and stringent terms and conditions on any permits that are granted.

Applicants, for example, would have to show that they're doing all they can to conserve existing water supplies and that they've exhausted their search for alternative sources that do not involve interbasin transfers.

WHAT'S NEXT

Here is the timetable for this summer's work by the Legislature's study committee on water planning:

JUNE: Four subcommittees, or "working groups" develop final reports.

JULY 10: The groups present their reports to the full committee.

AUG. 1: The committee meets to consider and discuss its final report.

AUG. 29: The committee adopts the final report, including recommendations to the General Assembly for legislation to be considered during the 2003 session.

Reach Dave Williams at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.