SAVANNAH, Ga. - Georgia river advocates are calling for greater public participation in a statewide water planning process.
The Georgia Water Council has scheduled four town hall meetings about the plan, which aims to develop comprehensive water-use, storage and conservation strategies.
But four meetings is too few for Chandra Brown, the executive director of the Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper. The meetings are scheduled for Savannah, Marietta, Macon and Tifton.
"It's really going to cut out the heart of Georgia," Ms. Brown said. "More meetings would provide more opportunity for people to participate. It's supposed to be a stakeholder plan."
Carol Couch, the director of the Environmental Protection Division, says the four meetings are just the start.
"This initial round of meetings will reach citizens in four distinct areas of the state," said Ms. Couch, who also serves as chairwoman of the Georgia Water Council. "We also will make these meetings available on the Internet via Webcasts, and more meetings will be scheduled in different cities during the coming months as schedules and time permit."
Ms. Brown is not alone in criticizing the process. The Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper is part of the 136-organization strong Georgia Water Coalition, which is also calling for more public input in the state planning process. The coalition's mission is to ensure that Georgia's waters continue to belong to the people of the state. It was formed in 2002 in response to a legislative effort to privatize water.
Ms. Couch said the Georgia Water Coalition was represented at the water council's most recent meeting and should understand its commitment to public participation.
"The coalition is misinforming citizens by saying the water council is conducting its work with limited public input," Ms. Couch said.
Still, Ms. Brown wants more participation because she's concerned about what's in the plan, including a discussion of aquifer storage and recovery or ASR. The practice, in which treated water is injected into aquifers, was controversial when previously proposed in Georgia.
"We're in strong opposition," Ms. Brown said. "It's lesser quality water potentially contaminating a high quality water source."
She's also worried about what's not in the plan yet, such as how to protect groundwater recharge areas by restricting where regional landfills go.
EPD officials say they are not taking sides. Instead, they're trying to facilitate a "rich and balanced" discussion.
"EPD is not taking (an) a priori position on one side or the other of ASR or other subject matters being discussed during this process," wrote Nap Caldwell, the EPD's senior planning and policy advisor on water, in an e-mail response to the question of whether the division supports the aquifer practice. "To do so would undermine the very process that EPD and the water council have adopted and are committed to supporting."
Ms. Brown, whose organization is dedicated to protect two recreational rivers, fears anglers and boaters won't be fully heard in the upcoming discussions, and urban interests will trump rural ones.
CREATING WATER PLAN
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is charged with developing the first statewide water plan and presenting it to the Georgia Water Council no later than July 1, 2007.
The Georgia Water Council, a coordinating committee created by the Comprehensive Statewide Water Management Planning Act, will then review and modify that plan, if necessary, and send a proposed plan to the General Assembly for its consideration in 2008.