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The Environmental Group

ON THE WATERFRONT

Water War

A few weeks ago, while Senator Johnny Isakson was tossing the same old red herrings to receptive audiences across northern Georgia, negotiations on water allocations from river basins originating in Georgia and continuing into Alabama and Florida were breaking down. The endangered species were not represented at the U.S. Dept. of Interior (DOI)-mediated negotiations, but the Southern Company, a “power”-ful recipient of Lake Lanier releases was there, along with the 3 states. These negotiators worked out a short-term allocation program that was implemented in November 2007 and is set to expire on June 1st, 2008. They then pledged, but ultimately did not produce, a long-term resolution by February 15th, 2008 (extended by hopeful DOI to Mar. 1st).

We, the tax-paying, electric power-consuming public, likely will never know what happened to tank the talks that DOI believed were on the cusp of ending this 18-year conundrum, because all parties involved have signed confidentiality agreements. Our 9th Representative Nathan Deal commended Governor Perdue for his “leadership and steadfast determination not to sacrifice Lake Lanier for downstream special interests.” We trust that he was referring to several downstream municipalities and not the environmentalists committed to protecting the natural resources of the area he was elected to represent.

Now, as the adversarial positions are played out in federal courts, DOI’s Army Corps of Engineers is in charge of revising interim operations that will replace the current allocations program and be in force until the official water control plans and manuals are revised. DOI regrets that this will be a solution directed to the 3 states rather than one coming from the states (http://www.doi.gov/news/08).

Statewide Water Plan

Realizing that the Plan’s structure for developing regional water-management strategies — 10 regional planning districts based on political rather than river basin boundaries, each with a 25-member state rather than locally appointed decision-making council — would be unfair to many of his constituents, Representative Charles Jenkins, alone among Chattahoochee-headwaters legislators, voted against the Plan. The Georgia Water Coalition will continue to lobby for river basin based planning while monitoring several water and land use bills, including the controversial proposal for revitalizing Jekyll Island. Please see www.snca.org Environmental Group News for an update on this legislation, some of which will have a positive environmental impact if passed.


 

STATEWIDE WATER PLAN

In the Jan. 3, 2007, White County News, opinion cartoonist Powell shows the winner of a circus booth game called Population Growth Contest receiving a large bag of Problems. The booth proprietor, who looks like a real ‘operator,’ is giving the bag to an innocent looking kid named GA, while a guilty looking adult turns away, leaving the kid to hold the bag.

In the midst of unprecedented growth and a 4-year drought that worsened last year, it is easy to infer that Georgia’s diminishing water supply might be the weightiest item in the bag of problems. In this case, the ‘operator’ could represent the combination of developers and politicians (some are one and the same) who support each other in weakening and even evading regulations that protect our water supply. The kid might be the present and future public that, for the most part, either has no knowledge of these deals or has not been informed of their impact. The adult could either be special interest groups that benefit from these arrangements, or the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District (MNGWPD), which is the main factor in our water crisis.

Will Georgia’s newly developed Water Management Plan, which is meant to resolve water concerns statewide as well as provide Florida and Alabama (by court order) their fair share of downstream water, relieve this problem? The Georgia Water Coalition, which has monitored and critiqued the Plan during its 3+ year development period believes some improvement is necessary for statewide effectiveness.

The Georgia Water Council has divided the state into 11 Planning Regions, which in the next 3 years will develop region-specific management proposals. Contrary to EPD’s initial water-basin based planning proposal, Planning boundaries are now political, comprising whole counties and encompassing parts of at least two river basins. Still, EPD maintains that water resource assessments and management decisions will be made “in accordance with the geographical boundaries of watersheds and aquifers.

The MNGWPD remains a statutory entity that can make water management decisions on its own, while the 10 other Planning Regions must do so within the framework of the statewide plan, as approved by the General Assembly. In an attempt to sort of spread around the ‘opt out’ privilege provided by law to the 16 Metro counties, a process is being developed that would allow border counties to ‘opt out’ into an adjoining Planning Region. Under the “if you can’t fight ‘em, join ‘em” rule, perhaps Lumpkin, White, and Habersham counties (the cut-off headwaters of the Chattahoochee River Basin) should apply to join the adjacent Metro District – especially White County, which is entirely in the Chattahoochee Basin. What was the Water Council thinking?

As the legislature considers the Water Management Plan, water supply protection abuses continue at the local level. Currently in White County, the LHR Farms multi-county septic waste facility is in the headlines. This is a classic example of a developer/politician convenience arrangement. It exists because developers are loath to pay for sewer lines, and politicians had rather risk creating health and environmental hazards than telling constituents that taxes must be raised in order to build expensive sewage treatment plants. Sewage systems are inevitable in high growth areas such as Hall County, and even White County, to protect water quantity and quality (water discharged back into a waterway must be as clean as that taken in). Yet water lines are routinely run unaccompanied by sewer lines. Wouldn’t it be logical and fiscally prudent to run both at the same time even though hook-ups and a treatment plant may be a few years away?


The Environmental Group Online

The Environmental Group is pleased to report that the results of our ongoing projects, Heritage Trees and Birds of Habersham and White Counties, now are available on the SNCA website (www.snca.org). These can be accessed by clicking on Environment at the sidebar on SNCA’s home page and then following links (Trees, Birds) on the Environmental Group’s home page.

The Heritage Tree information is a summary of historic trees identified and, in some cases, associated homeplaces as well. Photographs of most historic trees and structures are included.

The Bird information includes a comprehensive checklist of all species observed since the study began in 2003, plus birds reported from our three state parks. The text contains information on good birding spots as well as interesting observations during each season of the year. Professional photographs of several “backyard” birds are included.

The first link listed on our revised home page is Water. This section contains information on water resources and usage in our area and the importance of land use decisions in maintaining these threatened resources. This section also points out the reasons a statewide water management plan is needed, especially for the Chattahoochee River Basin.

We hope you will find our “new” web pages more informative and easier to navigate. We thank webmaster Marlin Geiger and intermediary Jan Epps for their good work.

Click here to learn more about the Environmental Group and its programs...