The Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) released the 2013 Dirty Dozen on November 13. Georgia River Network is one of the GWC’s more than 200 partners, which represent a total of 300,000 Georgians.
The Dirty Dozen exposes the links between agency underfunding, legislative schemes, and political cronyism to offenses against Georgia’s waterways. You can read the press release here. You can find the full report (and links to the individual issues) on the GWC’s website. (If you are using Google Chrome, you may need to access your browsing data “History” and “empty the cache” to view the 2013 report).
The Dirty Dozen include examples of unacceptable industrial pollution of groundwater (Satilla River/Seven Out) and industrial stormwater that pollutes a stream flowing into Lake Lanier (Flat Creek/Pilgrim’s Pride).
A host of unnecessary reservoirs (Etowah/Richland Creek and Chattahoochee/Glades) funded by the Governor’s Water Supply Program make the list again. More than $160 million – out of more than $180 million – has been earmarked during the past two years to pay for expensive, unnecessary and environmentally damaging dam and reservoir projects.
The list also includes other water quality issues from last year that have not been resolved. While pulp fiber product giant Rayonier enjoyed profits of $411 million in 2012, its pulp plant in Jesup continues to foul the Altamaha.
Other items on the Dirty Dozen include a risky aquifer and recovery experiment that threatens the Floridan aquifer; local and state abdication of responsibility to halt water pollution caused by ATVs (Hurricane Creek); the orchestrated dewatering of the Flint River; ill-conceived changes to shoreline protection; and an underfunded state Safe Dams program (Lake Alice).
A number of issues also highlight the energy and water connection, including coal ash contamination (Ocmulgee/Plant Scherer), too much water withdrawn from the Savannah River for Plants Vogtle and McIntosh, and the potential for increased mercury pollution in conjunction with the struggling Plant Washington project (Oconee/Ogeechee).
The 2013 Dirty Dozen also provides success stories and updates for items that made the 2012 list.
In less than one week, the Dirty Dozen generated the following eighteen stories in newspaper, radio, television and online media markets all around the state:
- November 13, 2013, Gainesville Times, “Chattahoochee, Flat Creek make group’s ‘dirty dozen’ list,” by Sarah Mueller.
- November 13, 2013, AccessNorthGA.com, “Ga. Water Coalition ‘Dirty Dozen’ list includes 4 in N. Ga.,” by staff.
- November 13, 2013, WFXL/FOX 31 Albany, “Georgia Water Coalition names its 2013 Dirty Dozen,” by Franklin White. Click here for video.
- November 13, 2013, WYAY All News 106.7 – radio, interview with April Ingle.
- November 13, 2013, ConnectSavannah.com, “‘Dirty Dozen’ GA Waterways Announced,” by staff.
- November 13, 2013, Macon Telegraph, “Midstate waterways make Dirty Dozen list,” by Maggie Lee.
- November 13, 2013, Albany Herald, “Flint River Makes the Georgia Water Coalition Dirty Dozen List Again,” by Terry Lewis.
- November 13, 2013, Savannah Morning News, “‘Dirty Dozen’ includes proposed new changes to beach, marsh laws,” by Mary Landers.
- November 13, 2013, GPB, “Dirty Dozen mapping Georgia’s water problems,” by Orlando Montoya.
- November 13, 2013, The Florida Current, “Georgia’s group ‘Dirty Dozen’ list includes three issues affecting Florida,” by Bruce Ritchie.
- November 13, 2013, WSAV, “Three Area Rivers Remain on ‘Dirty Dozen List,’” by JoAnn Merrigan.
- November 13, 2013, LakeLanier.com, “‘Dirty Dozen’ Report on GA’s Waters,” by Robert Sutherland.
- November 14, 2013, WALB/ABC 10 Albany, “Flint River named among Georgia’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ water offences,” by Jim Wallace.
- November 14, 2013, WFXG/Fox 54 Augusta, “Flint River named among Georgia’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ water offences,” by Jim Wallace.
- November 14, 2013, Rome News-Tribune, “Etowah River makes ‘Dirty Dozen’ list of worst offenses against Georgia’s water,” by Alan Riquelmy.
- November 14, 2013, 1340 WGAU, April Ingle interview on Newsmakers with Tim Bryant.
- November 15, 2013, Brunswick News, “List brings attention to local waterways,” by Editors.
- November 16, 2012, LaGrange Daily News, “Chattahoochee again on ‘Dirty Dozen’ list,” by staff.
The recently released new application letters seeking money from the second round of the Governor’s Water Supply Program (GWSP) reveal the imprecise and targeted – and perhaps un-constitutional – nature of a revised funding mechanism known as state direct investment (SDI).
The GWSP was launched by Nathan Deal in 2011 to disburse $300,000,000 over three years in the form of low interest loans and SDI for water supply projects to provide “an adequate supply of clean and affordable water” to communities in need of water security. The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) was to administer the loans, and the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) was to budget for the SDI. In 2011 and 2012, and in consultation with Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission (GSFIC), all the parties agreed that SDI had to result in state ownership of a physical “definable asset with an appropriate fair market value and useful life,” like land, a well, a water tower, or other real property.
In 2012, the GWSP’s first round simultaneously awarded $99,550,000 in loans and SDI. The process revealed missed opportunities, political favoritism, and projects that demonstrated no need but were funded anyway, such as the Flint River aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) project in southwest Georgia.
Perhaps to avoid controversy again in 2013, GEFA re-wrote the scoring criteria for the second round of the GWSP. The biggest change eliminated the first and key threshold question that was asked of all projects in 2012: “Does the applicant(s) demonstrate a need for new water supply through 2050?” According to directions in the 2012 scoring criteria, “if the applicant does not demonstrate such a need, the applicant earns a zero for” the “Proposed Approach” criterion. In other words, the 2013 criteria stripped a key qualifying question that was responsible for a number of projects rating a zero for need in 2012, projects that included the Flint River ASR scheme and the Lake Lanier Islands water well. In 2013, applicants did not have to identify the need, they only had to indicate “the need is significant.”
With that criteria in hand, GEFA awarded four loans totaling $38,800,000 on August 27, 2013. Then GEFA decided to rewrite the scoring criteria again but only for SDI applications. GEFA, only with input from the Governor’s office and the Environmental Protection Division – and leaving DCA and GSFIC in the dark – arbitrarily redefined what classified as an “asset” for the purpose of awarding SDI to specific projects. They changed the rules in the middle of the game. Now, SDI awards do not have to result in state ownership of a physical asset. Now, a state agency with no legislative or regulatory authority claims – despite centuries of established riparian rights – that the state can own water in the form of augmented flow and quantities of water in a reservoir.
On October 11, 2013, GEFA allowed SDI applicants to revise and resubmit their applications based on the new rules. Five applicants resubmitted and two other applicants let theirs stand, however, the Madison Industrial Authority and Camp John Hope applications may no longer be eligible based on the new criteria. While only $44,000,000 is available, the total request amounts to more than $105,000,000. So what sort of asset do the applicants want the state to invest in?
The City of Dawsonville wants the state to spend $20,000,000 to purchase 1,100 acres of “real property” necessary for the proposed Calhoun Creek Reservoir. According to the applicant, Calhoun Creek will provide water supply, flow augmentation and drought mitigation benefits for the state of Georgia. The applicant sees little risk associated with the project. However, the state would be investing in a project that the applicant acknowledges is not needed or supported by any regional utility or other municipalities. Plus, the scheme is risky for environmental reasons: The proposal includes interbasin transfers (IBT) of raw water between river basins – in this case the Etowah and Chattahoochee – and this is unprecedented in Georgia. Read more about one citizen’s opinion of Calhoun Creek.
Beyond that application, what asset the state will get in return for spending tax dollars is murky at best.
The City of Auburn identifies why their rock quarry-to-water supply reservoir project will benefit Auburn, Winder, and Barrow County. Without the requested $2,500,000, Auburn “would have to raise its water rates.” But the letter fails to really specify how or why the project would benefit the state. Plus, GEFA already gave Auburn a $7,300,000 loan from the GWSP in September.
Paulding County already received a $21,600,000 GWSP loan in August to finance the Richland Creek Reservoir, in addition to $32,000,000 in loans awarded last year. That’s a lot of money for a reservoir the county “would not require” or need for another fifty years, according to their recent October 10 letter. Nevertheless, the county claims that $33,000,000 more in SDI would cover final design and construction phases. But, according to David Austin – the Chairman of the Paulding County Board of Commissioners and brother to the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District chairman (Boyd): “several questions must be answered concerning how the State would like to utilize the project and how much capacity the State would like to obtain through its participation.” In other words, Paulding County would like more of the state’s tax payer money but the state has not identified a need for water supply, increased safe yield or anything else. In letters dated October 10 and 14, Paulding states they have no idea what they would be giving to the state in return for state investment.
Carroll County already received a more the $9,000,000 loan from the GWSP in September to expand the existing and tiny Indian Creek reservoir in the Tallapoosa basin. Now the west Georgia community seeks a whopping $35,000,000 in SDI to build a bigger dam. This application letter again reveals the unformed nature of the SDI criteria: “the Authority is willing to explore an agreement with the state to assist it with flow augmentation and protection against drought.” What would the state actually be investing in? Good question; Carroll County does not actually say.
All roads, rivers and water politics in Georgia seem to lead to north Georgia and Glades Reservoir. Hall County has been working on the Glades project for decades, and has altered the project’s purpose and justification five times since 2007. Because of this long process, undefined need and the mounting tab (current estimate: $130,000,000), Hall County needs a bailout. The solution includes a $14,599,000 SDI request and a flat annual fresh water fee of $70 per tax parcel – regardless of size or value – levied on each of county’s approximately 75,000 tax parcels for at least fifteen years. The letter falsely claims: “the city of Gainesville has stated that is supports the project.” In fact, on October 1, 2013, the Gainesville City Council tabled a resolution on this very matter. Citizens were grateful.
The Governor’s office, GEFA, and EPD made a unilateral decision on how state dollars should be spent to secure water supplies for communities in need. When they discovered they couldn’t invest tax payers’ dollars in pet projects, they changed the rules in the middle of the game. But they did not seek any input from the experts. They made an end-round around GSFIC – the state’s financial planners – and undermined a system of checks and balances meant to ensure that state revenues and tax dollars are spent in compliance with the Constitution of the State of Georgia.
Do you want to keep industrial hog waste from ruining property, communities, health and clean water in Georgia? If yes, then read on.
Hog waste could flow in large quantities in your watershed if the Georgia Board of Natural Resources (Board) accepts the Environmental Protection Division’s (EPD) proposed changes that would significantly weaken swine rules and regulations for large hog operations. Read the synopsis of the proposed changes and the detailed changes.
Backstory: In the 1990s, the DNR Board understood that hogs produced a liquid waste-stream that was different from other animals. The Board decided that mega hog operations proposed throughout Georgia at the time were not in the state’s best interest. In response to public input, the Board created hog specific regulations to protect Georgians. They wanted to prevent the kinds of mega hog pollution and liquid waste problems experienced in North Carolina. Unfortunately, in 2012, the Board weakened rules for all concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) to make those rules closer to minimum federal standards.
Now, state government is picking winners and losers. According to a Morris News Service article, EPD is asking the DNR Board to revise the mega hog rule to further weaken regulations so “four or five” of the almost fifty permitted hog producers in Georgia can expand.
However, this change will open the door to expanded and new mega hog producing operations that will threaten communities, public health, property rights and rivers across Georgia. Liquid hog waste is a problem because the amount of liquid manure-waste produced by one hog can equal four times the amount produced by a human. Thus, a hog operation with up to 12,500 hogs (the equivalent of 5,000 “animal units”) could produce about the same amount of waste as a population of 50,000 people (roughly the population of Valdosta) but hog waste is concentrated and untreated, unlike sewage from cities where human waste is treated.
With this rule change, industrial hog operations with up to 12,500 hogs will no longer be subject to requirements for notice to neighboring landowners before operations begin; limits on open waste lagoons and spraying; requirements that facilities have the financial means to properly close old waste lagoons; wider buffers between facilities and state waters, public water supplies, schools, and occupied residences; and restrictions on permitting of operators that have racked-up previous violations.
Mega hog operations also present significant risks to public health. According to a 2013 Johns Hopkins’ study, people who live near hog operations and fields sprayed with hog waste (called Land Application Systems) are at risk of developing infections that are resistant to commonly prescribed antibiotics.
Larger hog operations will also impair Georgia’s ground and surface water. We know hog waste presents particularly high pollution risks and has a history of contaminating rivers in the South.
North Carolina has long been the poster-child and illustrates why large hog operations must be highly regulated. For example, in 1995 an eight-acre hog waste lagoon full of waste generated by 10,000 animals ruptured and poured 25 million gallons of liquid manure into the New River. More than 10 million fish were killed and more than 364,000 acres of coastal wetlands were closed to fishermen. The News and Observer provided extensive Pulitzer Prize winning coverage of what led to “North Carolina’s pork revolution.”
In September 1999, Hurricane Floyd made landfall in North Carolina, killing an estimated 30,000 hogs and flooding nearly 50 liquid manure lagoons and causing five more to fail completely. Millions of gallons of hog waste poured into six coastal rivers. As the waste easily escaped with the flood waters – as seen in these satellite images – it also seeped into private drinking water wells. Nine percent of the 310 private drinking water wells tested were contaminated. Rick Dove’s images of pollution after Hurricane Floyd and subsequent storms are unambiguous.
These problems do not just occur during tropical storms and hurricanes, they can occur any time there is a substantial rain of a few inches. When hog waste lagoons are full of hog manure and rain, operators of these facilities have no choice but to pump that sludge onto fields that are already soaking wet. When that happens, the hog manure flows into the creeks and rivers and landowners and communities downstream are polluted and their health and property values are affected.
In Georgia, a variety of data sources provide indirect evidence that a half-dozen hog facilities discharge waste into creeks and rivers in the Savannah, Withlacoochee, Alapaha, Ogeechee, and Altamaha river basins, and that EPD considers those same waterways impaired because there are high levels of fecal coliform in the water. According to EPD’s 2012 305b/303d List, these creeks and river segments do not meet their designated use for fishing.
Recent events make North Carolina’s history relevant for Georgia’s future. The Virginia-based Smithfield Foods is the nation’s biggest hog grower and pork producer. Smithfield is a vertically integrated company, which means the company owns the hogs from “squeal to meal.” Smithfield provides pigs, feed, hormones, antibiotics and financing to contracted hog producers who house the animals and manage the waste stream until the hogs head to a processing plant. On September 26, 2013, Smithfield finalized a $4.7 billion deal, selling the company to the Chinese-based Shuanghui International. It’s the biggest Chinese acquisition of an American company. Shuanghui wants to “quickly ramp up pork exports from the U.S.” to China and further “accelerate Smithfield’s global expansion.” The U.S. is already the global leader in pork exports, and the top four markets are Japan, Mexico, China and Canada.
But after decades of water pollution, hog producing requirements in North Carolina are now more restrictive for new operations and therefore the hog growing business cannot get any bigger there without implementing expensive and appropriate waste management technology. Because North Carolina’s hog operations are unlikely to expand given that state’s limits for new and expanded operations, and because of Smithfield’s sale, Georgia’s proposed and weakened hog producing regulations could open the door to massive production of Chinese owned hogs in Georgia for export via Georgia’s ports. Smithfield is no stranger to Georgia. Plus, during Governor Nathan Deal’s trip to China in August 2013, agricultural products were on the agenda and it’s possible hogs were discussed given the then-pending Smithfield-Shuanghui deal.
If you don’t want mega hog operations and liquid manure fouling your community, here is what you can do:
Sign-up for the Georgia Environmental Action Network. GEAN is an on-line system that periodically provides you with information on the most important environmental issues and gives you the choice to take action and let decision makers know your views. The GEAN system automatically matches you to your elected officials, includes your contact information and delivers letters – all with one mouse click. Go to www.protectgeorgia.net and click “sign up”. Then watch for alerts on this topic.
Also, attend EPD’s currently scheduled public hearing on October 25 where individuals can speak directly to EPD staff. Submit formal written comments before October 28. Attend the December 3 DNR Board Meeting where you can sign-up and present a short three-minute statement to the board. Full details here.
On August 27, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) announced $38,818,100 in loans from the Governor’s Water Supply Program (GWSP) would be available to four communities. This recent announcement represents “Part I” because the state direct investment awards (like a grant, but the state owns physical property at the end of the day) will be issued in October or November.
Part II awards – which with a reported $44.5M available – could fund almost all of the remaining projects: Madison County Industrial Authority; Calhoun Creek reservoir; and Hall County’s Glades reservoir. And the rest? GEFA recommended that that Coosawattee WSA, Stockbridge, and South Fulton (Bear Creek reservoir) consider other GEFAF funding streams.
Read this post for a summary of all Round II applications, and to find links to the individual applications and a map showing project locations.
Four projects got the green light at this stage. Two in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa River Basin (ACT), one in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin (ACF), and one in the Oconee-Altamaha River Basin. One would assume the two ACT proposals would get Alabama’s attention, much as ACF flows and the oyster fishery’s decline brought Florida’s attention back to the tri-state water wars.
Paulding County has been planning for the Richland Creek Reservoir for decades. The county requested and has been offered another for $21,600,000 loan to build a pump-storage reservoir (the Etowah River is the source). Just as a reminder, during the 2012-13 Round I cycle, Paulding County received their first GWSP loans for more than $32,000,000 for the same project. The “Unnecessary Reservoir” will waste tax dollars, threaten downstream communities, and endangered fish; and it made the Georgia Water Coalition’s 2012 Dirty Dozen List. It remains unclear how this reservoir is “outside the scope of on-going ACF and ACT litigation.”
The Carroll County Water Authority has been offered a $9,070,000 loan for the massive expansion of an existing U.S. Department of Agriculture reservoir on Indian Creek (ACT). In a strange cover letter, the applicant asserts – without evidence – that because the Georgia Environmental Protection Division “limits the number and size of withdrawals from the Little Tallapoosa River…At some point in the future, EPD will cease to allow additional withdrawals. The CCWA’s right to withdraw water will be a valuable asset.” Furthermore, the cover letter claims the reservoir’s 404 permit is anticipated in June 2014. The county commission is taking a big financial risk with this assumption; there is absolutely no guarantee the Corps can issue the permit on the consultant’s speculative timeline. Again, what would folks in Alabama think about this reservoir?
The City of Auburn – armed with a $7.3M loan offer – will move ahead with a novel water supply project. According to the application, the community intends to convert a privately owned rock quarry into a pump-storage reservoir. The water will come from the Mulberry River (Oconee/Altamaha Basin). The application does not clearly explain how the quarry property’s ownership will play out. This pump-storage project will place additional pressure on the upper Oconee River basin, where one pump-storage reservoir is in operation (Bear Creek), another is full but not operational (Cedar Creek), and another is on the table (Parks Creek). Finally, the application includes the possible sale of raw water to Winder. The water would be discharged from the quarry into Rocky Creek, where Winder operates a downstream intake. How would they protect that flowing water for other withdrawals?
The Forsyth County Department of Water and Sewer (ACF) was offered an $800,000 loan for drilling exploratory water wells along Chattahoochee River below Lake Lanier. Why this project? Apparently the tri-state water war has locked up access to Lake Lanier (not really the case anymore) and the county needs water. The project will drill exploratory wells into bedrock aquifers to determine what they might yield. The real reason for this project: Forsyth County historically bought most of its water from other water authorities and municipalities. The county has recently sparred with Cumming – the primary water supplier – over the cost of treated and raw water sourced from Lake Lanier.
GEFA broke the GWSP loan news in a release detailing over $68M in water and sewer infrastructure projects. Of the $68M, about $30M in Georgia Fund and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loans will finance sewer system upgrades, water line replacement, new water meters, and water treatment plant construction. The remaining $38M will come from the GWSP for new supply side reservoir projects. So what?
Georgia has had many opportunities to invest in existing water supply and delivery systems. Instead, on more than one occasion Georgia has elected to fund two proposed reservoirs in the already contested river basins like the ACT.
Missed opportunity: Reps. Ed Linsey and Lynn Smith introduced HB 199 during the 2013 legislative session. The bill would have allowed funding from the GWSP to be used for water efficiency and conservation projects in addition to new reservoir projects and other water supply projects. The bill sailed through the House by a significant majority, passed out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, but was reportedly killed by the Governor – who created the GWSP – during the last days of the session and it was never brought to the Senate for a vote.
Stay tuned. There’s more to come on the GWSP once the state direct investment awards are announced.
Despite the unusually wet summer that has filled reservoirs in Georgia and throughout the southeast, the famed tri-state water wars over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) River basins have flared-up over the past few months.
In May, Alabama’s and Florida’s Senators made a legislative attempt to limit Georgia’s water supply withdraws from Lakes Lanier (ACF) and Allatoona (ACT). In July, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (R) pulled Corps and state environmental agency staff from Alabama, Florida and Georgia before a Senate committee. And in late August, Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott (R) lobbed a bomb-shell: he wants to take Georgia back into the court room.
All of these events have succeeded in rattling Georgia’s cage – and hubris.
In May, the first signs of trouble emerged in the U.S. Senate during debate over passage of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). The WRDA is an omnibus bill – a bill that authorizes (which is not the same as appropriating) federal spending on specific U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ water supply and public works projects like the Savannah Harbor’s dredging. In a bill like this, there is also room to tweak the Corps’ other activities, responsibilities, mandates, etc.
Alabama’s and Florida’s Senators sought a provision in the WRDA that would have required Congressional approval of Georgia’s water supply requests from Corps managed reservoirs. By doing so, the Senators hoped to better manage downstream flows from Georgia into Alabama and Florida. However, Georgia’s Senators – Johnny Isakson (R) and the out-going Saxby Chambliss (R) – succeed in passing the bill out of the Senate without the provision. The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is now poised to work-up their version of the WRDA, and a majority of Georgia’s Congressmen have already vowed to protect their interests.
In July, Alabama’s Senator Jeff Sessions (R) called a Public Works Committee hearing. Sessions called the Corps to task and asked them to revisit the 11th Circuit Court’s ruling. In 2011, the Court determined the Corps misinterpreted their own authority to manage Lake Lanier and must reconsider Georgia’s past requests to draw additional water directly from the artificial reservoir. (In 2012, the Corps provided their own analysis and response.) During the hearing, state environmental agency officials from Alabama and Florida blamed Atlanta for taking too much water from the ACF and ACT basins. Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division director presented a laundry list of the state’s initiatives – the State Water Plan, the Governor’s Water Supply Program, new legislation – to substantiate his claims that Georgia is a good water neighbor.
Then last week saw a flurry of activity. On Monday, the U.S. Commerce Department (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) declared a fishery disaster for the Apalachicola Bay’s already teetering oyster fishery, citing low flows of freshwater into the bay. On Tuesday, Florida Senators Marco Rubio (R) and Bill Nelson (D) took part in a previously scheduled Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation field hearing in Apalachicola to hear from oystermen about the impact of drought. On the same day, Gov. Scott announced that Florida intended to sue Georgia over low flows in the Apalachicola River.
Georgia’s response? Gov. Nathan Deal thinks Scott’s legal threat is a re-election stunt. Furthermore, Deal claims Georgia offered Florida a water sharing agreement a year ago but got no response.
[Image credit: Andy Marlett]
Other Georgians – like those in Columbus – are not so sure. We’d like to see that offer – and any other between the three states – but the tri-state negotiations have been legally shrouded since 2010. Transparency – not secrecy – would benefit all the stakeholders and communities (and oysters) in the ACT and ACF water wars.
There has been no shortage of interpretation and media coverage of these recent flashpoints from Alabama’s and Florida’s vantage point:
Watery Foundation: “Meeting the Apalachicola to Death”
Florida Current: “Long battle likely if Florida takes water fight to U.S. Supreme Court, experts say”
AL.com op-ed, Mitch Reid: “Alabama needs a comprehensive water management plan now, not later”
Anniston Star editorial board: “Pouring it on — Thirsty Atlanta, Gulf Coast oysters and more water-war litigation”
Tampa Bay Times column: “It’s No World for These Oysters”
In April of 2013, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) announced receipt of eleven applications for Round II of the Governor’s Water Supply Program (GWSP). In short, the GWSP is a three year initiative that is supposed to fund water supply projects for communities in need of supply. An assessment of Round I awards and the scoring process reveals missed opportunities, political favoritism, and projects that demonstrated no need but that were funded anyway. For example, read about Newton County’s Bear Creek Reservoir or the Flint River aquifer storage and recovery project in southwest Georgia.
First: Round II Basics. GEFA intends to distribute approximately $65.25 million – about $20.75M in loans (that have to be repaid) and $44.5M in state direct investment (SDI) that does not have to be repaid to Georgia’s taxpayers. The eleven applicants have requested a combined total of $140M ($85M in requests for loans and $55M in SDI requests).
Projects Focused on Existing Water Supplies:
The Coosawattee Regional Water and Sewer Authority seeks a $17M loan for a new water treatment plant that will utilize the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Carters Lake in the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basin (ACT). Once the plant is operational, the authority will build an interconnected system and tie four utilities together. This is a far better solution than what the authority proposed in 2008: a new reservoir.
The Madison County Industrial Authority and Elbert County Board of Commissioners has requested $10M in SDI to assemble a massive interconnected municipal drinking water system in northeast Georgia. The plan will optimize Elbert County’s underutilized permit for water withdrawals from the Corps’ Lake Russell in the Savannah River basin.
Projects with Big Questionable Marks:
The City of Auburn applied for $2.5M SDI to convert a rock quarry into a pump-storage system in the upper Oconee River (Altamaha River Basin). It remains to be seen if the Mulberry River can sustain the withdrawals, and if the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority thinks this project will affect water withdrawals from the Middle Oconee River for Bear Creek in Jackson County.
Forsyth County seeks an $800,000 loan to drill new water wells. Assessing the need for this water supply should not be that complicated: Forsyth has a water supply. However, the municipality does not like to purchase water from the city of Cumming; Cumming holds the withdrawal permit to Lake Lanier. Forsyth’s justification for water wells along the Chattahoochee River? They want water security.
The City of Stockbridge (in Henry County and the Ocmulgee River basin) has requested a $2M loan to develop two new water wells and explore other sites. Stockbridge currently purchases half their water supply from Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority. This project will result in at least two production wells that could enable Stockbridge to produce and store a greater percentage of their own water supply. Again, no real need here beyond a desire for water security.
The Big, Baad Dawgs: Reservoirs & Money Pits
The City of Dawsonville seeks $20M in SDI to acquire land (that was supposed to be a suburban sub-division before the Great Recession) for the Calhoun Creek reservoir project on an Etowah River tributary (ACT). This project appears to be part of a much larger pipe-dream to use this reservoir to store and distribute water from the ACT and Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (and perhaps the Tennessee, see slide 13). The City of Dawsonville has secured water withdrawal permits from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division but has no Clean Water Act Section 404 permit. Newsflash – this might be a dead application: Governor Nathan Deal’s office has given the impression the application will not be approved; but the applicant counters, ‘not dead yet.’
Carroll County has submitted an application for $9M for a massive reservoir expansion project in west Georgia’s Indian Creek (part of the ACT basin). The GWSP loan will only pay for 1,300 acres to complete land acquisition around an existing National Resources Conservation Service watershed impoundment. This project is currently in the Section 404 permit process.
Paulding County has received a large chunk of change from Georgia’s tax payers to finance the Richland Creek reservoir. Last year, Paulding County received almost $32M in Round I loans. This year, the county seeks an additional $21.6M loan to move this un-needed reservoir in the ACT basin along. Paulding County is also in the Section 404 permit process and has leaned on Gov. Deal and Georgia’s Congressional Representatives, who have in turn leaned on the Corps to get the permits moving.
Hall County seeks a $14.5M loan for the Glades Farm amenity lake in the ACF basin. This reservoir has been the focal point of a city-county water war for years. And the plans for Glades have changed as many times as the clouds in the sky (resulting in two separate 404 permit applications), further demonstrating the project’s need is dubious at best. As such, the Corps launched a rare Environmental Impact Statement review of this moving target. It’s worth noting that the GWSP application calls Glades “innovative” because like Hickory Log Creek Reservoir, Glades will deposit water into a federal reservoir for use by permitted withdrawal entities in a process the applicants believe can be replicated throughout north Georgia. Finally, the applicants furthered muddied their credibility by utilizing outdated water demand and population data to inflate the project’s need, according to this Gainesville Times news report.
The last big baad dawg: South Fulton’s Bear Creek reservoir (ACF). The South Fulton Water Authority submitted an application for a whopping $42M – or $20M in loans and $22M in SDI. This project is also in the 404 permit process. Astute readers may say: didn’t this boondoggle project apply to the GWSP last year and get rejected by GEFA? Yes. This go around the applicant claims they have financial security. But according to the applicant’s own financial consultant, financial security is contingent upon South Fulton getting the full requested GEFA loan, getting the full requested GEFA SDI, and having the ability to float an additional $65M in revenue bonds. In other words, financial security in South Fulton is not a fact but a presumption based upon investment instruments that have not been offered, accepted or secured.
Goes to Eleven? There is indeed one final project, but the Camp John Hope water well (Macon County) is essentially a blank and incomplete application form. So no real information there.
There are other details and items of interest buried in GEFA’s Round II applications and documents. That information – and eventual analysis of the actual awards that will be announced in early August – will come in subsequent posts.
As the Georgia Water Coalition worked on SB 213 (Flint River Drought Protection Act revision) during the 2013 legislative session there was much discussion about the parallels folks saw with the failed 2003 permit trading bill (HB 237). Just as a point of reference, in final form, HB 237 passed the House and Senate in 2004 and became the Comprehensive State-Wide Water Management Planning Act.
In essence, SB 213 can be interpreted as an attempt to implement a framework what was lost in the original HB 237 fight a decade ago. Below you will find an assessment of the similarities between a past and present attempt to rewrite Georgia water law. These two stories also reveal that the movement to change water law was and remains driven by a small interest-group’s desire to privatize water for “water exchanges” to benefit metro-Atlanta at the expense of the state’s other regions.
First – like SB 213 – HB 237 was sold as a benefit for farmers. HB 237 was also popular among some industrial (primarily the pulp and paper manufacturers) and municipal users. The idea was that farmers or industry could sell their permits (or portions of their under-utilized withdrawal limits) to communities building new subdivisions or other industries (including proposed power plants). Or permits could be sold to the highest bidder, who might then decide to pipe the water far away to a place like Atlanta via an interbasin transfer. I discovered no reference to endangered species in the HB 237 debate, which was a rallying cry in Senate and House committee meetings for SB 213 advocates eager to protect farmers from an alleged endangered species lawsuit.
Second, the people behind HB 237 and SB 213 were the same people or special interests who used some of the same tactics. According to Jay Bookman – who wrote the following in a 2005 Atlanta Journal Constitution op-ed – “Supporters of the bill [HB 237], including Harold Reheis, then head of the state Environmental Protection Division, at first tried to deny the bill’s revolutionary impact, hoping to sneak it into law before anyone understood its implications.” This is the same tactic we saw with SB 213. SB 213 was written to replace riparian rights with prior appropriation. This change would protect operation of a large aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) scheme promoted by Joe Tanner & Associates (where Reheis is currently employed). Other folks promoting SB 213 included former Rep. Bob Hanner, who also introduced HB 237.
Third, HB 237 – like SB 213 – was supposed to be geographically limited. HB 237’s water permit trading was supposed to be limited to southwest (Flint) and southeast (coastal) Georgia. Of course, SB 213 was supposed to be limited to the Flint, but the augmentation provisions could be exercised in other river basins as discussed in the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission’s initial application to the Governor’s Water Supply Program for state direct investment in an ASR project. (The SWGRC and the contractors’ consortium, including Joe Tanner & Associates, have since withdrawn from the ASR project.)
A fourth similarity: HB 237 – like SB 213 – was apparently designed so the state might ‘claw back’ un-used or under-utilized water withdrawal permits. Such an action would increase the value of utilized permits should they ever be sold on an open market.
Fifth, during HB 237 debates, the paper industry understood that permit trading “will codify the method of moving permits….[and] gives a number of new options in water management,” according to an International Paper company spokesman interviewed for a 2003 Atlanta Journal Constitution article. It is hard to imagine that the paper folks working SB 213 did not see the same potential to buy, sell and trade water withdrawal permits to benefit metropolitan areas like Savannah and Atlanta.
Sixth – prior to the introduction of HB 237 and SB 213, the EPD director suspended “consideration of agricultural” water withdrawal permits in the lower Flint and Chattahoochee river basins. In May 2013, EPD decided to stop taking new applications for all groundwater withdrawals in Georgia’s Coastal Plain. While this is a good move for groundwater supplies, it is also another way to increase the value of existing and utilized permits.
What does a comparison of HB 237 and SB 213 tell us? First, SB 213 looks like a vehicle for what was lost in the original HB 237 fight. Second, a small interest group continues to think the solution to Georgia’s interstate and intrastate water supply problems lies in an alteration of Georgia’s water law. Third, this movement is motivated by profit. The drive to privatize water and alter water law comes from the top-on-down and not from the grassroots. If these changes would really benefit all Georgians and downstream communities equally, the discussions and actors would be more transparent.