Interbasin transfers prohibition needed

Published 9:13 pm Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This week, Sen. Jim Butterworth (R-Cornelia) and Rep. Tom McCall (R-Elberton) introduced legislation that aims to regulate interbasin transfers—the process of moving water from one river to meet water demands in communities around another river.

Even before the bill’s introduction, a firestorm of opposition to this common sense, good government bill was billowing from Metro Atlanta’s growth industry.

That the bill has stirred such fervor only underscore the fears that business leaders outside Metro Atlanta have held for years—that the state’s metropolis knows no bounds when it comes to securing its water supply.

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If they have to pipe water from Lake Burton in Rabun County, they will. If they can stick a straw in South Georgia aquifers, they will. And, they want state government to facilitate it, not restrict it.

It is the state’s responsibility to assure the economic well-being of all Georgia communities and that is what this bill aims to do—to assure citizens of Augusta, Rome and other growing Georgia communities that their economic future will not be forfeited to fuel potentially unsustainable growth in Metro Atlanta or some other neighboring community.

Opponents of interbasin transfer regulations will tell you that their regulation is merely a ploy by environmental extremists to prevent humans from fully utilizing our state’s water resources—that it’s about saving fish and mussels.

But, if you ask any chamber member downstream of the big city, they will readily tell you their desire to regulate interbasin transfers has nothing to do with mussels and everything to do with economic muscle. These business leaders understand that when you ship water across the state, you ship jobs as well, for economic development cannot occur without sufficient water supplies.

And, how does Georgia regulate such a contentious issue?

It doesn’t.

Beyond the considerations for ordinary water withdrawals from our rivers, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, which is charged with managing our water, need do nothing more than issue a press release to newspapers in the area impacted by a proposed transfer seven days before issuing the permit. No criteria for evaluating the transfer’s potential impact must be considered.

That is not the case in Tennessee and South Carolina where state regulators must consider more than a dozen factors before approving interbasin transfers.

The River Basin Protection Act of 2010 keeps the existing prohibition on water transfers into the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District and creates a list of criteria for EPD to consider in evaluating whether to issue a permit for an interbasin transfer.

Given our state’s reluctance to regulate interbasin transfers and given recent proposals at the highest level of state government to move water across the state to fuel Metro Atlanta, it’s no wonder legislators and business leaders outside the state’s capital are calling for change.

The State of Georgia should not attempt to settle issues with other states at the expense of Georgia cities and counties. Until regulations are in place that assure downstream communities that their economic interests will be protected, distrust will grow and the real water wars in these parts will be between Georgia communities, not our neighboring states.

Although the growth of metro Atlanta is important to Georgia, the remainder of Georgia does not exist solely for the welfare of metro Atlanta.

Ron CrossChairman of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners and Chairman of the Savannah-Upper Ogeechee Regional Water Council, which unanimously adopteda resolution in favor of prohibiting interbasin transfers