Water Supply Report Card
Shannon McCaffrey’s recent Atlanta Journal Constitution article about the Governor’s Water Supply Program (GWSP) awards and blatant political favoritism sparked my interest in the “Scoring Methodology” that the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) and Department of Community Affairs (DCA) used to evaluate the Round I applications. Folks from GEFA, DCA, Georgia Department of Agriculture, Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission, Georgia Environmental Protection Division, and others collectively whittled down the fifteen applications to a short-list including ten projects before seeking approval from the board of directors’ of GEFA and DCA, and then announcing eight awards on August 1. Surf here for an award summary and analysis.
As a former teacher, I know that all grading rubrics are simultaneously subjective and objective. But in the end, I can clearly explain how I arrived at any given assessment.
The GWSP’s methodology asked a scoring team comprised of four members (one each from GEFA, DCA, Dept. of Agri., and GSFIC) to evaluate the applications for specific quantitative and general qualitative elements. The scoring assessed the following criteria in four sections: project need and location; project financing; readiness and timeliness; and project impact.
So how did the projects fare?
The two projects on the short-list that did not receive awards were a proposal for a new reservoir in south Fulton County (Bear Creek Reservoir) and a reservoir enhancement project in Villa Rica, which was scored but apparently withdrawn. The scoring team determined that both project applications demonstrated tenuous, if any, “need.” One applicant – the South Fulton Municipal Regional Water & Sewer Authority (a current client of Joe Tanner & Associates and Tommy Craig) – apparently did not identify an imminent water supply shortfall. Furthermore, the applicant has access to an alternative and existing water supply – from the city of Atlanta. Finally, the financial health of the community scored poorly.
So it’s surprising that there were two other projects that did not demonstrate “need” but were funded. The Lake Lanier Islands Development Authority (a water-well-for-a-waterpark) and the Southwest Georgia Regional Commission (Flint River aquifer storage and recovery scheme) applications both scored multiple zeros in the need category. Out of a total possible score of 100 points for need, the LLIDA scored 5 points and the SWGRC zero.
The LLIDA and SWGRC projects also scored very low in “Project Approach and Impact” section. For example, both applicants apparently did not demonstrate that the projects will “provide substantial regional benefit” or “serve/benefit a significant number of Georgians.” This is interesting given that both applicants painted their projects as part of the solution to Lake Lanier’s ongoing water supply allocation conundrum and the tri-state water war. Plus, the LLIDA plan is coming under scrutiny, according to the Gainesville Times: “Resort’s well may be costly to Gainesville” – the current and primary water supplier to LLIDA, who is one of the city’s largest water customers.
The scoring team apparently was not convinced that these two projects – a water-well for an exclusive resort managed by a former political operative who was a major Deal campaign donor and an aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) project promoted by a former state agency head who was also a major Deal campaign donor – were qualified for direct state investment. So if the team didn’t give these projects a passing grade, who did?
And that’s only part of what is so frustrating. These two projects received $9 million in direct state investment (that is free money from state coffers) as opposed to loans. And taxpayers will own these pork-barrel boondoggles like we own bridges to nowhere. At the same time, existing state parks suffer and the State Archives is effectively shuttered. The GWSP awards really look more like water rewards for Gov. Nathan Deal’s team-players. This administration has made one thing very clear: if you can’t pay, you can’t play.