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2016 Legislative Priorities

December 21, 2015

Georgia’s General Assembly session will begin on Monday, January 11, 2016.  This is the second year of a two-year legislative cycle.  And according to many legislators and observers, the 40-day session will be quick.  Why?  It’s an election year, and sitting legislators cannot raise campaign cash while the session is, well, in session.  So, the rumor is the legislative calendar will be light.  And the peoples’ business will be executed quickly.

What are the important conservation and environmental issues?

Georgia River Network (GRN) is supporting a Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) priority to protect all of Georgia’s streams, creeks and rivers. All of Georgia’s waterways are supposed to be protected by a 25-foot buffer. On cold water trout streams in north Georgia that buffer is 50 feet. These protected areas help keep water clean, protect habitat for fish and wildlife, and prevent damage to streamside property.

However, this summer the Georgia Supreme Court reversed lower court decisions and placed the protection of Georgia’s creeks, streams and rivers in question. The high court limited the methods used by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to determine streamside protection zones to a single, narrow test:  buffers are to be measured only from the point of “wrested vegetation.” Not all waterways have wrested vegetation, however, which leaves many of the state’s streams, creeks and rivers without a protected buffer.

Georgia’s General Assembly should heed the Supreme Court’s advice in Turner v. Ga River Network et al (see page 6): fix an ambiguous and arbitrary law that leaves many of the state’s waterways without legal protection. There are other proven ways to measure a buffer in the absence of wrested vegetation such as using “the ordinary high water mark.”  We need YOUR help.  To learn more about “Buffers” and TAKE ACTION, visit: http://www.protectgeorgia.org/#/takeaction

GRN is also supporting a GWC priority to pass Senate Bill 36, the Underground Water Supply Protection Act of 2015.  This bill passed the Senate with only three dissenting votes during the 2015 session.  It is now sitting in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. SB 36 needs a full committee hearing AND must be voted out of committee with a “do pass.”  The bill does three things:  it affirms the public nature of aquifer resources; it confirms the private property right to undiminished natural water quality from the resource; and it requires the Department of Natural Resources Board to promulgate rules that will protect the public and private values of our groundwater resources.

There are other issues that may arise during the legislative session that GRN will pay particular attention to.  For example, there has been discussion about a possible Constitutional Amendment to stop the General Assembly from raiding the fees we pay that are supposed to finance the solid waste, hazardous waste, public safety and other ‘trust funds.’  Instead of directing the fees to their stated purpose, the General Assembly has used these fees to balance the budget.  This has been a problem and needs to be fixed.

Additionally, we will watch House Bill 682, the Water Conservation Act of 2015.  This bill would require local government entities withdrawing water from our streams, creeks and rivers to return reasonable percentages of those withdrawals over time, which is a good thing.  And we will be paying attention to House Bill 483, which would make the shoal bass a symbol of the State of Georgia, specifically its official native riverine sport fish.

GRN is the voice for all of Georgia’s rivers, and we help everyone enjoy, connect with and advocate for economically vital and clean flowing rivers.  And we need YOUR help after the General Assembly convenes.

Please SIGN UP NOW to receive important and timely Protect Georgia action alerts to stay up to date on issues affecting clean water, the health of our rivers and Georgia’s vital natural resources.
Membership in Protect Georgia—formerly known as the Georgia Environmental Action Network (GEAN)—is free and allows you to easily contact your senator, representative or other decision maker via e-mail when an important decision is pending or a vote is scheduled.

Sign-up here: http://www.protectgeorgia.org/georgia-river-network—sign-up-form.html

-Chris Manganiello

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