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2011: Off to a Quick Start on IBT Regs

January 5, 2011

This first week of the new year finds Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper Sally Bethea writing in an AJC op-ed that by getting its own house in order, water-wise, Georgia can move much closer to a Tri-State Water War resolution and to the much-needed authorization to use Lake Lanier for water supply beyond 2012.

At issue here are rules and regulations on interbasin transfers of water – IBTs – which are currently before the state Department of Natural Resources board. At its December meeting, the DNR board received a briefing on amendments to the rules on IBTs, and a board vote on the new rules is scheduled for Jan. 26.

That’s presumably before the legislature, whose new session starts next week, gets into the swing of dealing with substantive issues like water policy. Water Wire readers will recall that last year’s legislative session saw a big push from dozens of legislators to regulate – but not prohibit – IBTs, in accordance with the statewide water planning legislation of 2008.

Last year’s effort by legislators was unsuccessful, and now we see similar language bypassing lawmakers by moving forward through the DNR board as rules, rather than as statute – but with some crucial deficiencies, as noted clearly by Upper Coosa Riverkeeper Joe Cook in this December op-ed in the Rome News-Tribune. In a nutshell, the question is whether the new rules will be effective in managing IBTs or not.

Rome also reported yesterday afternoon that its Chamber of Commerce has decided that it will ask the DNR board to make the new IBT regulations meaningful and effective, and several Morris News Service papers today carried a Walter Jones story dissecting the issue. That story also notes the line drawn in the sand by Sen. Ross Tolleson at last month’s legislative training institute in Athens. Tolleson’s statements to his fellow legislators appear to be of a piece with the present route of “soft” IBT regs through the DNR Board rather than the legislature.

Thus, Bethea takes pains to point out in the AJC that properly managing interbasin transfers within Georgia would go a long way toward a resolution of the water war with downstream states. Equitably govern the sharing of water between river basins, and you help the sharing between states too. That’s a goal in which all Georgians have a stake, as Judge Paul Magnuson’s July 2012 deadline looms. Where will we stand on New Year’s Day next year?

-Ben Emanuel

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. DrinkMoreWater permalink
    January 5, 2011 8:27 pm

    The reality is that the General Assembly passed the Water Plan with the “should” language after public review and comment – the DNR rule under consideration uses the same language.

    The best thing that can happen is the Magnuson ruling is either overturned or Georgia/Alabama/Florida comes to agreement. Otherwise Magnuson’s ruling may very well force interbasin transfers that otherwise would not have happened.

  2. garivernetwork permalink*
    January 7, 2011 10:58 am

    I agree: it seems that without a tri-state agreement the outcomes of the Magnuson ruling could indeed force interbasin transfers that otherwise would not have happened. Not a pleasant outcome.

    And if an agreement is a solution to the problems posed by the ruling (which seems more likely than a successful appeal or overturning of the decision), I’d argue that having meaningful in-state IBT regs is one key to finding a good, effective agreement. The egg has got to come before the chicken in this case — I guess that’s what I’m saying.

    As for “should” and “shall,” the reality is also that a DNR rule using the “should” language at this stage may not have any effectiveness as a rule at all.

    Thanks —

    -BE

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