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It’s Water Grabs and Unneeded Lakes as the Session Nears its Close

April 21, 2010

As the 2010 legislative session approaches its end, the issue of regulating interbasin water transfers in Georgia remains unresolved, but still very alive. Hard-charging legislative committee work last week has the proponents of interbasin transfer (or IBT) regulation pushing to get some new rules on the books before the 2010 session runs out – which may happen next week.

Meanwhile, fresh news from Tuesday indicates that a controversial bill from last year is still alive. The bill would essentially green-light a large amenity reservoir in south Fulton County where new water supply is not needed – but more on that one in a moment.

First, here’s the recent background on the IBT issue: Standalone legislation to provide for commonsense regulation of IBTs was introduced in both the House and Senate earlier this session. Those bills went by the title of “River Basin Protection Act of 2010,” and they had dozens of sponsors, from both parties and all parts of the state, in both houses of the legislature. But despite the widespread support for the measures, legislative committee leaders wouldn’t let the River Basin Protection Act out of committee for consideration on the floor.

That’s led to the current situation, in which Rep. Doug McKillip of Athens last week offered an amendment to a related bill – one dealing with interconnections between water systems in Metro Atlanta – that would provide for some of the IBT regulations (not prohibitions) outlined in statewide water planning documents and elsewhere. The House Natural Resources Committee approved the amended bill last week, as reported by the Augusta Chronicle and the Newnan Times-Herald, but the bill still must get through the Rules Committee and onto the House floor this week or next if it is to have any hope of passage.

That would seem to be possible given the strong support for the River Basin Protection Act in the first place earlier in the session. And, providing for IBT oversight by the state Environmental Protection Division is only logical from the perspective of protecting river systems for the sake of environmental sustainability, economic development potential, and even good relations in the tri-state water war. Politically speaking, continuing to block the regulations would seem to perpetuate a bad “Two Georgias” division to the detriment of metro-area legislators. The action will surely be fast and furious as the 2010 session draws to a close, and the days to come will tell the story.

Now for the news on unneeded reservoirs: Both the Atlanta Business Chronicle and AJC report today that House Bill 406, which passed the House last year, was approved yesterday by the Senate Natural Resources Committee on a 6-4 vote – sending it to the Senate Rules Committee and possibly to the floor before the session’s end. The two articles above cast the debate as revolving around service delivery agreements and water utility revenues, but there are very real environmental concerns here too: Not unlike some other reservoir proposals we’ve heard about, the South Fulton reservoir one would be in the Chattahoochee River basin – meaning it would compound surface flow issues in the Chattahoochee rather than magically solving Metro Atlanta’s water problems. Read more background in this ’09 AJC article on the conflict, and take note of this front-pager from last summer’s edition of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s newsletter.

-Ben Emanuel

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