Bryan County residents who have watched the Ogeechee River drop steadily in the grips of the current drought can say one thing for certain: our water crisis has been an eye opener, revealing not just the sandy river bottom, but also the mud flats of our water mismanagement - our failure to embrace water conservation and water resource planning in the face of an ever-growing population.
On Dec. 11 at 6 p.m. at the Midway Civic Center (Old Liberty Elementary School), area residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on these issues during a public hearing to receive comments on Georgia’s first-ever Comprehensive Statewide Water Plan.
Unfortunately, the Plan, in its current form, may do little to overhaul how we do water business in Georgia. You might consider it a suspect restructuring plan for a business coming out of bankruptcy.
While the Plan does contain some excellent proposals for regional water planning and comprehensive monitoring and assessment of our waterways, it falls far short of what is needed to ensure enough clean water for this and future generations.
Foremost among the Plan’s flaws is its lack of "teeth." Because of language included in the original legislation mandating the Plan and a recent Attorney General’s opinion, the Plan has no rule making authority. It changes no current laws and makes no new laws - it is little more than a letter to Santa Claus when it comes to water management.
Because of its statutory deficiencies, the Plan has no authority to subject the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District to new policies and rules outlined in the draft Plan. This means downstream communities - which include most of the rest of the state (some 143 counties) - will be subject to the whims of a Plan created in 2003 and currently being updated by 16 metro Atlanta counties.
Even if the Plan did have the power of law behind it, many of its provisions do not go far enough in protecting downstream communities and the integrity of our state’s rivers and lakes.
The Plan wisely emphasizes water conservation, but unfortunately contains no clear requirements for reducing water demands.
It contains a laundry list of criteria that should be considered before a local government can build a new reservoir or transfer water from a neighboring river basin but falls short of mandating such considerations.
And, it includes controversial and unproven water management schemes, such as aquifer storage and recovery, desalination and nutrient trading. These schemes could be forced upon residents of the Ogeechee Watershed, at our cost, to appease interests in north Georgia who view the Savannah River as a potential source of cheap and easy water to fuel their mismanaged growth.
Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) is to be commended for its Herculean effort in creating this Plan and for its efforts at involving the public in the process, but now it’s time for our legislators to take EPD’s document and produce a LAW - not a wish list.
Our legislators must adopt a water plan with teeth that is adequately funded, sets clear goals for water conservation, keeps in check unproven water management schemes and creates clear and binding criteria for decision-making that will guide local governments through such contentious issues as reservoir construction and water transfers.
Any document that is less should be addressed to the North Pole.
Brown is the executive director of Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper.