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Back to School: Learning your IBTs

August 20, 2010

That’s right folks, school is back in session. One of our esteemed readers recently asked us a pretty basic question: What Georgia river basins are currently subject to interbasin water transfers? Wonder no more. We have posted the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s 2008 inventory of Georgia interbasin transfers (IBTs). You can link to the Georgia Water Coalition site to review the document.

Here is how an IBT works at a basic level: water is removed from one river (the donor basin), treated and used for drinking water and other purposes, and deposited into another basin (the receiving basin) via wastewater treatment plants. There are about 28 IBTs operating in Georgia today.

Just in case you didn’t know, not all IBTs are created technically the same. Some IBTs happen for geographic, logistic, and economic reasons – ecological concerns aside, for the moment – since political boundaries do not conform to watershed boundaries. In other words, there is a difference between some of Georgia’s existing IBTs and some of the proposals that have made the news in the last year or so. For example, some communities straddle basins, and engineering an IBT there may be done for geographic, logistical, and economic reasons. Other IBTs are not so pragmatic, particularly those recommended by Governor Perdue’s Water Contingency Task Force last year including the much-talked-about transfers that would move many millions of gallons of water per day from the Savannah or Tennessee rivers into the Chattahoochee River basin. At the same time, the net summary figures in the spreadsheet linked above – for total water loss and gain per river basin – are instructive and, in many cases, significant in volume. So, there are ecological concerns and broader policy concerns tied up in just about any IBT, despite the differences we’ve noted here.

And just some food for IBT thought: Administrative Law Judge Ronit Walker ruled on July 2010 that the proposed Plant Washington’s desire to withdraw 13.5 million gallons per day (mgd) from the Oconee River for use as condenser water in the Ogeechee River basin, in fact, constituted an IBT even though the remaining 11% – 1.5 mgd – of the water would be returned to the Oconee River.  The Plant Washington folks now have to complete some “procedural” tasks to secure a formal IBT.  Sadly, they are not wrong: IBTs are essentially un-regulated in Georgia which is why IBT reform was an important issue during the 2010 legislative session.  As Justine Thompson of GreenLaw was quoted as saying of the Plant Washington builders: “What they were doing is really a way around having to deal with the interbasin transfer issue….This ruling is a significant decision that goes beyond coal plants and it has a lot to do with” water, IBT, and energy policy in Georgia.  Read more in the Augusta Chronicle.

Need some maps to make sense of all the data? Here goes:

Georgia’s 14 River Basins (with county names).

Georgia’s 52 Large Watersheds (without county names).

And that old handy Water Contingency Task Force Appendix that floated “Control” (A.K.A IBT) options [see slide 138 for a Georgia IBT graphic].

– Chris Manganiello

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mac Hodell permalink
    August 31, 2010 2:45 pm

    Chris, no IBTs were recommended by the Governor’s Task Force. Please re-read the report. You might be confusing “identifying options” with “recommending”. This distinction is not trivial.

    • garivernetwork permalink*
      September 1, 2010 9:06 pm


      Thank you for the reminder and suggestion about verb choice. You are correct, the Water Contingency Task Force did not “recommend” IBTs. The Task Force members evaluated, considered, and “floated” ideas about many potential IBTs. I apologize for being inconsistent in my word choice.


      • Mac Hodell permalink
        October 19, 2012 1:55 pm

        So could you please go back and change your wording? It is simply not thru that the Task Force recommended any IBTs. That is a fact. Since things live on the web forever, could you change the wording in your post to be accurate?
        Mac Hodell

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