Politics of water percolating in Legislature, water plan update

By David Pendered

Editor’s Note: This story was updated Tuesday to correct the length of time Mayor Boyd Austin has served on the board of the Metro North Georgia Water District.

The politics of water in Georgia have yet to manifest at anything close to the level they reach in the arid southwest.

Scenic Lake Lanier

Scenic Lake Lanier appears able to fulfill all expectations as a water supply, flood control, and recreational destination. Credit: peakwater.org

Yet the pot’s bubbling. One issue is the General Assembly’s intent for Georgia’s 10 regional water councils. Another is the mandated 2014 water plan update by the Metro North Georgia Water District. Not to mention reservoirs.

Boyd Austin, the Dallas mayor who chairs the water district board and supports reservoirs, said the district’s success over the past decade validates it as a role model for the other councils.

Per capita water consumption in the region has dropped nearly 27 percent – from 149 gallons a day to 110 gallons a day, during the past decade.

“Our population grew by 1 million during that time,” Austin said. “With residents up, consumption should have been up. But we have a very clear record of conservation.”

Only the North Georgia Water District has been set up and staffed at a level that allows it to play a meaningful role in water management issues.

Austin said the continued existence of the water councils is a priority for the Georgia Municipal Association and Association County Commissioners of Georgia. The two organizations represent concerns important to local governments at the state Capitol. GMA had a lobbyist at the district’s meeting last week.

Lake Lanier and Buford Dam

Buford Dam controls the amount of water released from Lake Lanier into the Chatthoochee River. Credit: gpb.com via peakwater.org

“We’ll see what they [lawmakers] do with the regional water councils – if they reinstitute them, if they provide a funding mechanism, and if they will be on a permanent basis,” Austin said.

The councils are integral to the statewide water management plan adopted in 2008 by the General Assembly. Each of the state’s 10 water councils created a water plan for its region. The state Environmental Protection Division adopted all 10 plans in November 2011.

The North Georgia Water District already existed when the councils were formed. The North Georgia Water District was created in 2001 to address the region’s water management issues, much like GRTA was created to oversee air quality issues. The purpose of the water district is to oversee water resource issues in the region and flows to downstream areas.

The next major task facing the district is its update of the regional water plan, in 2014.

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper fired a flare in October, when it urged the district to update its projections for water demand. The projections are based on a wide array of data, which Chattahoochee Riverkeeper contends are outdated – because they preceed the recession – and vastly overestimate the region’s likely growth rates.

The organization called for greater reliance on conservation in its report: “Filling the Water Gap, 2012 Update.”

Boyd Austin

Boyd Austin

Austin said water conservation is a very important aspect of the water district’s plan for managing water supply. Reservoirs also are very important, he said.

“We have to have storage,” Austin said. “Conservation alone cannot get us to where we need to be. The governor’s reservoir plan will provide some off-site storage to handle our daily needs. We’ll look at return flows, to make sure those are accounted for, as well.”

Austin has served on the water district’s board since 2003, immediately following his two years of service on Georgia’s first Statewide Water Study Committee. Austin has been in elected office for 17 years, and now serves as mayor of Dallas, the seat of Paulding County. He said he’s seen the development wave sweep across north Georgia, and wants to do his part to help others understand the role of water management.

“I want to make sure our elected officials are engaged and part of this process,” he said. “It is political, and it is financial, and they need to take a common sense solution. I want them engaged so they can go out and tell the word to their community.”

 

About David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with nearly 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.
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