DNR board rejects calls to toughen interbasin transfer rule

Article published in Rome News Tribune 01/27/11

DNR board rejects calls to toughen interbasin transfer rule

byWalter Jones, Morris News Service


ATLANTA— In a defeat for many downstream communities, the Natural Resources Board voted unanimously Wednesday for a rule that will tighten the way the Environmental Protection Division issues permits for interbasin transfers of water but not go as far as environmentalists and downstream civic groups wanted.

Advocates for a stricter rule fear that metro Atlanta will slurp up water from distant river basins and hog the economic benefits that would have flowed otherwise to places like Augusta, Athens, Savannah and Rome.

The rule, a recommendation from the stakeholder groups that drafted the framework for the statewide water-management plan, lists factors for consideration in the granting of new withdrawal permits that result in moving water from one river basin and discharging it into another. The main factors are the environmental and economic impacts during droughts for both the donor basin and the receiving basin.

Environmentalists say the rule is a step in the right direction but that it ought to apply to the renewal of existing permits, not just new ones. They also argue that it should mandate consideration of the listed factors rather than make them discretionary.

It’s a question of word choice, said Joe Cook, executive director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative.

The rule merely suggests the EPD consider the impact of a new water transfer on the community losing the water to another basin. There also is no provision to review the transfers already occurring.

Cook had hoped the language would say that the EPD “shall” consider those factors rather than “should.”

“It makes the appeals

process virtually impossible,” Cook said. “And it gives them the flexibility to disregard the criteria.”

But Sen. Ross Tolleson, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said jobs depend on the director being able to adjust to different circumstances.

“We’re giving the flexibility to the EPD to make sure we continue to have business development in the state of Georgia,” he said.

Cook called Wednesday’s vote a “bad decision” and said board members ignored more than 1,000 e‑mails that were sent on the issue. “It’s a mockery of the public comment process,” he said.

Several legislators from downstream districts have vowed to renew legislative efforts to block the rule from taking effect.

Rep. Quincy Murphy, D-Augusta, reached after the vote, said the legislation is now likely. “I would like to see legislation that said there shall be definite guidelines,” he said.

Rep. Doug McKillip, R-Athens, who authored a failed amendment to inject the tougher wording last year as an attachment to a related bill, said he’ll support any other lawmaker’s efforts for stricter wording. Still, he said, the rule that passed will be better than nothing.

“While I would prefer ‘shall’ instead of ‘should,’ I am still pleased that the board would include the language in some form,” he said.

Rome City Manager John Bennett agreed. “It’s a step in the right decision,” Bennett said.

Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, the author of last year’s unsuccessful bill with the more restrictive wording, didn’t return messages seeking to learn if he will introduce his measure again.

McCall has said the matter is urgent because after the 2012 elections, metro Atlanta will have gained legislative seats lost by South Georgia as a result of redistricting.

Read more:RN-T.com - DNR board rejects calls to toughen interbasin transfer rule


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