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Impact of Georgia's Water Stewardship Act

Published Monday, June 7, 2010

Georgia's negotiations in the long-running tri-state water wars were back in the news on June 1, when Governor Sonny Perdue signed into law the Water Stewardship Act. This legislation is intended to send a signal to neighboring states Florida and Alabama that our state is serious about its water conservation program. The governor also is hoping that the legislation will give Georgia some leverage in its negotiations over the use of water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin.


Frank Armstrong, a partner with the Gainesville, Ga. law firm Stewart Melvin & Frost, a veteran civil trial attorney with an expertise and commitment to environmental protection and conservation. He holds a certificate in environmental ethics at the University of Georgia, and has been following our water situation in Georgia closely for many years.

Question: Can you give us a brief overview of this new water bill and what it means to all of us in Gainesville-Hall County and this region?

Frank: This new water bill was prompted by a federal ruling back in July 2009 that could potentially limit the state's use of Lake Lanier as a source for drinking water. U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ruled that Lake Lanier was never intended as a water supply for metro Atlanta. Gainesville and Buford were excluded (because lake covered up their original water intake valves). But we could still potentially return to pre-1975 levels of authorized water draws of 8 million gallon daily for Gainesville if the three states of Georgia, Florida and Alabama are unable to reach a water-sharing compromise.


Judge Magnuson established three-year deadline to achieve this tri-state agreement. As result of this federal ruling, Gov. Perdue subsequently appointed a Water Contingency Planning Task Force last year to study Judge Magnuson's ruling and come up with recommendations. We had two local members serving on that task force - Lieutenant Gov. Casey Cagle and Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce President Kit Dunlap.


Question: What are some the conservation measures that are part of the new law and what is the main impact to individuals?


Frank: All outdoor water use is banned between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. - every day. State building codes were amended to require installation of higher-standard water-efficient fixtures, such as toilets, in homes and commercial buildings. This all takes effect in 2012. Other requirements of the new water law apply more to state agencies in regard to their water practices and efficiency standards (LEED) for buildings occupied by those agencies.


The new law also provides loan incentives for local governments to build new reservoirs and expand existing reservoirs. So, we will want to follow this provision closely here in Hall County because we are currently applying for a permit to build the Glades Reservoir in North Hall that has been such a big local topic in the news this year.

Question: What is your opinion of this new law? Will it really help resolve our water wars with Alabama and Florida?

Frank: It's a step in the right direction, but it's not likely to help us strike a final agreement with Alabama and Florida. It won't win the water wars. However, this new water law does send a message to these two states that Georgia is serious about doing its part to conserve water.


Still, it's doubtful that we will see a major impact in the reduction of water use statewide as a result of this new legislation. Here in Gainesville, we already have been progressive in enacting a number of water conservation requirements that have reduced our levels of water consumption. Gainesville, for example, already gives a cash rebate to local water customers who install high-efficiency toilets.


The Water Stewardship Act encourages local governments like Gainesville to enact conservation rules that go beyond state requirements. I am hopeful that we will continue to be a leader in this effort - we have a particularly important role and responsibility since our community is located at the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River.


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