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SB 213 Post-Session Assessment

April 2, 2013

What author Charles Fishman learned when he sat with Las Vegas water czarina Patricia Mulroy became relevant again a week ago.  During that interview he discovered something about Georgia’s attitude toward the tri-state water war with Alabama and Florida.

In December 2008 and while Georgia was gripped by drought, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue’s legal team traveled to Vegas, perhaps thinking they might commiserate with Mulroy.  They explained to the chair of the Las Vegas Valley Water District and the Southern Nevada Water Authority that Georgia doesn’t “have a water problem.  We have an endangered species problem.”  Mulroy – all brass tacks – “lost it” and found the lawyers’ attitude “hilarious,” according to Fishman in The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.

Here is why: Mulroy is responsible for making sure Las Vegas’ 2 million residents have drinking water.  This desert city – where people are invited to visit to forget reality – added 60,000 residents per year between 1990 and 2007.  Plus, it has been estimated that about 36 million people – or the equivalent of 10 percent of the U.S. population visits Vegas annually.  But during that same time period, the city did not add any new sources of water supply.

I don’t want to get too far into the weeds, but Las Vegas – like metro Atlanta – gets water from a federal reservoir: Lake Mead (filled by the Colorado River, which is bone dry by the time it reaches the Gulf of California) is Vegas’ Lake Lanier (which is located near the headwaters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River Basin).  Between 2000 and 2009, metro Atlanta – a 28 county region with 140 municipalities and more than 500 utilities – grew by 136,000 people per year.  More than five million people call metro Atlanta home.

SB 213: Mulroy’s reminiscence about Perdue’s lead negotiators dovetails with the Georgia General Assembly’s and the Environmental Protection Division’s (EPD) interest in revising the Flint River Drought Protection Act via SB 213 during the 2013 session.  According to EPD and SB 213’s proponents, the bill’s stream augmentation section can’t be divorced from protecting Flint River farmers from hypothetical U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) law suits over endangered species.  In fact, FWS has been working with Georgia’s Wildlife Resources Division to maintain healthy mussel habitat at a place called Spring Creek.

ASR: As I have written elsewhere because SB 213 proponents elected not to discuss the matter with Senate and House audiences until the eleventh hour, we must understand the connection between SB 213 and an experimental “large flow augmentation” aquifer storage and recovery project (ASR) in the Flint River’s tributaries funded by the Governor’s Water Supply Program.  If the stream “augmentation” language remains in SB 213 (lines 183-210), then the water that is deposited back into the Flint River tributaries by ASR operations will not be available to riparian property owners downstream.  This will set a dangerous precedent for other Georgia river basins.

Water Exchange: As reported by Ray Henry for the AP, the ASR water may one day become part of a “water exchange” where, according to the ASR project’s sponsor, “Aquifer storage volume underground in Southwest Georgia could be exchanged for surface reservoir storage volume above ground in Lake Lanier.”  In this scenario, highly productive southwest Georgia farmers would be forced to send water into Florida so that metro Atlanta can have more water.

As currently written, SB 213 provides statutory protection for an experimental, speculative and expensive ASR scheme that many are doubtful will work while cobbling Georgia’s riparian water rights together with prior appropriation water rights.  SB 213 is once again opening the door to the privatization and commodification of water supplies.  Almost exactly ten years ago the General Assembly sparred over – and stripped – provisions in legislation (HB 237) which would have allowed water withdrawal permit trading.  HB 237 – not unlike SB 213 – was promoted by Harold Reheis, a former EPD Director and current consultant working with Joe Tanner & Associates, the outfit largely behind the current ASR scheme.

In short, SB 213 must be amended to protect water rights for all Georgians.  And SB 213 must also change, because in Mulroy’s words, “at the end of the day, the Atlanta metropolitan water district has to be able to serve its population with less water.”  Municipal water supply is the real reason why SB 213 was never all about endangered species.

SB 213 Status: The bill was tabled and sent back to committee on day forty of the 2013 session because legislators and others were opposed to what the bill proposed to do.  Given that 2013 is the first of a two-year legislative cycle, SB 213 will most likely become an intersession project that will reemerge in 2014.  In fact, the bill’s sponsor has already proposed to try again next year.

-Chris Manganiello


4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 22, 2013 7:33 pm

    As educating as your post was, you probably should have gone a bit farther “into the weeds” by mentioning that unlike Georgia, Las Vegas is home to the largest ASR wellfield in the world. You know, those “experimental, speculative and expensive” schemes you mentioned. And who operates such a successful ASR scheme? The Las Vegas Valley Water District…yes, the same one that Patricia Mulroy oversees.

  2. May 29, 2013 3:44 am

    Excellent blog here! Also your web site loads up fast! What host are you using?
    Can I get your affiliate link to your host? I wish my site loaded up as quickly as
    yours lol


  1. ASR in Georgia: Past, Present and Future | Georgia Water Wire
  2. Rewriting Georgia Water Law in Two Acts | Georgia Water Wire

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