ATLANTA - A sweeping new state water policy proposal that temporarily bars the transfer of water between regions of the state and calls for increased conservation was released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Division.
The draft of the policy was the first step in what could be a months-long battle over how to manage Georgia's water to meet the needs of farmers, the growing city of Atlanta and other areas.
"We cannot delay any further because we are putting at risk our economy and our way of life," said Carol Couch, the director of the Environmental Protection Division.
Ms. Couch said the importance of the plan was underlined by the state's current experience with "the most historic drought we've ever seen in recorded history."
Water supplies can dictate development and control the fortunes of agriculture, observers point out.
Human use of water can also have far-reaching effects on ecosystems, environmentalists say.
"What's at stake is important for the state in many, many ways for many, many decades," Ms. Couch said.
The decision to place a moratorium on "interbasin transfers" - the piping of water from one part of the state to another - signaled an effort by state officials to defuse what was one of the most explosive issues in the build-up to the release of the plan.
Columbus lawyer Jim Butler, a former member of the Board of Natural Resources, had argued that the water plan was simply a plan to channel the state's water to Atlanta, something that Ms. Couch noted is currently barred by state law.
"This is all about saying let's focus on the real issue," Ms. Couch said after the release of the plan. "Let's set aside fears about the massive piping of water all around Georgia."
Under the proposal unveiled Thursday, the transfers would not be allowed until Ms. Couch's agency evaluates how much water can be withdrawn from all of the state's rivers, streams and other sources and regional water planning boards finish up their own blueprints for water use.
While some of the broad outlines of the plan had been revealed in town hall meetings and other forums over the past several months, the release of the plan at a meeting of the Georgia Water Council fleshes out the ideas. The council will approve a version of the water plan to send to the General Assembly for an up-or-down vote.
The policy would require a local government, utility or industry looking to withdraw water from a lake, river or other source to either show that it was conserving water well or take a series of steps to do so. Those wishing to build a reservoir would also have to show that they had worked to conserve water.
However, Ms. Couch said the state needs to try to streamline the permitting process for reservoirs, which can now take up to 14 years.
The policy also lays out a specific process for regional water planning commissions that will regulate the use of water from certain supply sources. Under the policy, the commissions will include governments, businesses and advocates who will consider how to manage and conserve water in their regions.
Ms. Couch has previously estimated that implementing the policy and the work of the local planning commissions will cost $25 million to $30 million, a number she didn't back away from Thursday but also didn't specifically endorse.
Some of the key elements of the proposed state water policy released Thursday by the Environmental Protection Division:
INTERBASIN TRANSFERS: Under the policy, piping water from one region of the state to another would be prohibited until after scientific studies of water supply and a regional planning process are complete.
RESERVOIRS: Those looking to build reservoirs would be required to first show that they had taken every step possible to find water from other sources and had worked to conserve and reuse water.
WITHDRAWAL PERMITS: Governments, utilities and industries would also have to show that they had worked to conserve water before getting permission to withdraw more from sources such as lakes, rivers and streams. If the state determined that those efforts aren't strong enough, a utility might have to introduce "tiered" pricing to encourage consumers to conserve.
REGIONAL PLANNING: The policy lays out how regional planning commissions are to be set up. The panels are supposed to include members from business, local governments and advocates.
- Morris News Service
... TOO MUCH OUT WEST
More rain fell Thursday in flood-weary parts of Texas, where evacuations were under way and residents were bracing for even more of the constant downpours that have killed 11 people in recent days.
Officials reported calls for dozens of rescues in San Antonio, and hundreds of people were ordered to leave their homes near the bloated Brazos River in North Texas.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, acting as governor while Gov. Rick Perry is out of the country, surveyed damage in Marble Falls on Thursday, "I haven't seen so much destruction since I was on the ground right after Hurricane Rita," Mr. Dewhurst said.
- Associated Press