Recent plan raises questions

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ATLANTA - Lawmakers have more questions about their role in approving Georgia's draft water plan than they do about the contents of the document. And they have more than a few concerns about the content.

The state Water Council will release a revision Thursday of the plan's first draft, which would govern how water is used in Georgia, from withdrawals for drinking and industrial uses to disposal of treated wastewater.

On Monday, members of the House and Senate committees on Natural Resources heard presentations by Carol Couch, the head of the Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources, but when given a chance to ask questions, most committee members inquired about their role.

The Water Council will submit its final draft of the policy on the first day of the General Assembly in January. Lawmakers will vote on whether to accept it, but they won't have the ability to change what the council submits.

If rejected, the plan can be revised and resubmitted by the 20th day of the legislative session. Or the legislators can draft their own version, something that has taken the council two years to do.

Many legislators say they have worries about details in the council's plan that they would like to see changed. One is about the definition of a term for deciding how much is withdrawn from rivers and streams.

Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, said, "Those of us in the South are concerned that 'consumptive use' will give us plenty of water."

Ms. Couch said her agency would look at where the population is growing and at ways to use water more efficiently in deciding how much water to permit to be withdrawn.

"Everything that will be implemented comes with a cost," she said.

Several lawmakers and members of the public have also expressed concern about the authority the EPD director will hold.

For example, Augusta-Richmond County Planning Director George Patty submitted a written comment about the original draft, one of dozens.

"The powers of the EPD Director are staggering," he wrote. "Future EPD directors may not be as open and fair as the present director has been."

Rep. Greg Morris, R-Vidalia, addressed it head-on.

"What additional power is delegated to the EPD and the director that doesn't exist today?"

Ms. Couch replied that her position is empowered by 26 state and federal laws and that the draft of the plan didn't give her any new power. The difference is how directors dealt with the past and how complicated future decisions will be, she said.


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