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Consensus water plan is good for all Georgia

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POSTED: March 11, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Standing beside West Point Lake in the spring of 2004, Gov. Perdue signed House Bill 237, establishing the State Water Council and requiring it to present to the Georgia General Assembly a statewide water management plan for its approval in the 2008 Session.
And approve they did: By overwhelming margins, members of Georgia's House and Senate -- rural and urban, Democratic and Republican -- voted "yes" to establish Georgia's first Statewide Water Management Plan.
The plan is the result of a lengthy, yet open process, in which interested parties had the opportunity to participate in public meetings throughout Georgia. The council, led by EPD Director Dr. Carol Couch, legislators and Perdue, are to be commended for their hard work and leadership on this complex issue. They have put into place a meaningful plan, good for all Georgians.
As Perdue noted that day four years ago near LaGrange, "As Georgia continues to grow and prosper, it is incumbent upon us to develop a comprehensive statewide plan that addresses our long-term water needs and conservation efforts."
True to legislative intent, the plan will ensure "Georgia manages water resources in a sustainable manner to support the state's economy, to protect public health and natural systems, and to enhance the quality of life for all citizens."
Yet, I have read articles and editorials from newspapers across Georgia critical of the plan as one that will benefit Metro Atlanta to the detriment of the rest of the state. While Metro Atlanta may be an easy target, such divisive criticism is unproductive and unfounded. To be sure, Metro Atlanta, as the largest metropolitan area in the Southeast and the primary engine of Georgia's economy, is growing, and growth consumes resources.
But when it comes to water, some pertinent facts about Metro Atlanta never find their way to print. For example, Metro Atlanta's water use ranges between just 1-2 percent of the average water flow at the Florida line; 1 percent in years with normal rain fall, rising to 2 percent in sustained drought, as we have experienced in the last year. If all water use ceased in Metro Atlanta, the impact on water flow at the Georgia-Florida line would be an increase of 1-2 percent!
Likewise, it is rarely reported that the main sponsors of HB 237 are from rural Georgia (Rep. Bob Hanner of Parrott, Rep. Tom McCall of Elberton, Rep. Richard Royal of Camilla, and Rep. Lynn Smith of Newnan, all still serving in the House and all voted for the plan), as is Perdue, who signed the enabling legislation.  The four chairmen of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees in the House and Senate, each of whom voted for the plan, represent rural districts. The Georgia
The fact is nothing in the plan favors one part of Georgia over another. The plan is truly statewide in scope. It is the first step in a multi-year process of assessing Georgia's water resources and the demands placed on these resources by cities, agriculture, business and industry. The plan promotes sustainable water use and lays the foundation for economic growth and prosperity for the state and its nine million citizens, while protecting our environment.
No, Metro Atlanta is not the cause of Georgia's water woes, which are really the result of the simultaneous occurrence of a multi-year, historic drought gripping the Southeast and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' operations of Lake Lanier, which allowed significantly larger than normal releases of water from Lanier to meet artificially high minimum flows at the Florida line, without ever allowing the reservoir to refill.  Sadly, as a result, many Georgia businesses have laid off workers; some have filed bankruptcy.

Tarbutton is chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and lives in Sandersville.
 

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