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DNR Board Adopts Weak Interbasin Transfer Rule, Legislature to take action

On Jan. 26, the Department of Natural Resources Board adopted new interbasin transfer rules that fail to fully protect the Coosa and Georgia's other rivers. Despite receiving more than 900 comment letters from citizens supporting stronger rules, Georgia's Environmental Protection Division (EPD) recommended to the Board to adopt the weaker language. The Board vote was unanimous.

The message sent to downstream Georgians and our neighbors in Alabama and Florida is clear: Georgia is not really serious about protecting our rivers or the economic interests of downstream communities.

The language included in the adopted rules gives EPD the discretion to choose not to fully evaluate water withdrawals involving interbasin transfers and makes successful appeals of interbasin transfer permits issued by EPD very difficult. In short, the rules have no legal teeth and limit citizens' ability to correct ill-advised decisions by EPD.

One word: "Shall" makes all the difference

At issue is one word in the rule: “should.” Currently, the rule reads that EPD “should” evaluate the interbasin transfer criteria that are part of the State Water Plan adopted by the General Assembly and Governor in 2008. These 22 criteria include everything from an evaluation of the transfer’s impact during drought conditions to the effectiveness of water conservation efforts in communities receiving the transfer.

The criteria are good, but the use of the word ”should” would allow EPD the discretion to ignore the criteria. For the criteria to be more than mere suggestions, the use of the word "shall" must be included in the rule.

Furthermore, as written the rule applies only to "new interbasin transfers." To protect our rivers and downstream communities from existing water transfers that may grow to harmful levels in the future, the rule should apply to all interbasin transfers.

Legislators Respond!

Our legislators are now working to correct the shortcomings of these interbasin transfer rules, and in the coming weeks will introduce bills to enact interbasin transfer regulations as state law.

During the 2010 General Assembly session, support for interbasin transfer regulations reached historic levels as 67 Representatives and 22 Senators introduced the River Basin Protection Act of 2010, a bill designed to regulate interbasin water transfers and assure all Georgia communities that their water supplies will be protected from harmful upstream water diversions and transfers.

However, legislative leadership thwarted all attempts to have these bills heard in committees and the bills died without action.


News Media Coverage of the Vote
Because of the overwhelming number of comments received by EPD, news media from across the state covered the vote at the DNR Board. The fact that EPD dismissed the voices of nearly 1,000 citizens did not go unnoticed.

The front-page headline in the Rome News-Tribune screamed, "Interbasin transfer vote "a mockery"" while the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported: "Environmental groups flooded the board with more than 1,000 e-mails asking the word "should" be replaced with the tougher "shall."  The board received 20 written statements supporting the less-strict wording."

Read these news accounts at:

http://www.romenews-tribune.com/view/full_story/11141089/article-DNR-board-rejects-calls-to-toughen-interbasin-transfer-rule-?

http://www.ajc.com/news/georgia-politics-elections/dnr-board-approves-new-816583.html

http://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/news/2011/01/26/georgia-poised-to-regulate-water.html

A Step in the Right Direction
While the rule fell short of the strong and meaningful regulations that are needed, it is an improvement over previously existing regulations. The DNR Board vote puts into rules a list of 22 criteria that "should" be evaluated when EPD considers a water withdrawal permit involving an interbasin transfer. These are good criteria that have widespread support.

The new rule also improves the public participation provisions included in existing rules. The new rule provides for a 30-day comment period on interbasin transfer permits. Previously, EPD only had to issue a press release to media outlets in communities impacted by the transfer seven days prior to issuing the permit.

These provisions within the proposed rule make this rule at least a step in the right direction.

To read the full version of the adopted rule, visit

http://www.gaepd.org/environet/6/amendment20101209.pdf

 

Sign the Petition

Water grab

More than 2,500 citizens have signed an online petition in support of this legislation. To sign the petition, go to http://www.nowatergrabs.com/  By signing this petition you will support legislative efforts to fully regulate interbasin transfers. Throughout the 2011 session we will provide e-mail updates and action alerts to all nowatergrabs supporters.

 

 

Interbasin Transfer Background

Each day in Georgia millions of gallons of water are stolen from our rivers and the communities that depend upon them through a process known as “interbasin transfer.” Water is removed from one river, piped to communities along another river and never returned. 

In 2008, the Chattahoochee River and the communities of LaGrange, West Point and Columbus lost 47 million gallons per day (MGD) while the Etowah River and the communities of Cartersville and Rome lost about 10 MGD.

Recently proposals would expand Georgia’s interbasin transfer pipeline to meet the water needs of Metro Atlanta. One such proposal would remove 100 MGD from the Upper Etowah River--ten times the current water diversion to Metro Atlanta!

Interbasin Transfers…

• threaten the prosperity of downstream communities

• threaten the health of our rivers, fisheries and wildlife

• create political conflicts within our state and with neighboring states

• promote the inefficient use of water and energy

• waste fiscal resources of state and local governments

To learn about Georgia's existing interbasin transfer laws, get a perspective on global interbasin transfer catastrophes and understand how interbasin transfers are currently impacting Georgia's rivers, CLICK HERE!

 

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