Governor's Water Supply Program Sending Tax Dollars Down the Drain

Aug. 26 CRBI Op-Ed in the Rome-News Tribune

GUEST COLUMN: Water program is sending tax dollars down the drain
by JOE COOK, Guest Columnist

 
 
DRIP, DRIP, DRIP…that sound you hear? It’s your water and state tax dollars going down the drain.

Earlier this month, Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration released $99 million in loans and grants through the Governor’s Water Supply Program. The program aims to use $300 million over four years to fund what the Governor has called “critical, cost effective water supply projects.”

The bad news for taxpayers is that those operative words, “critical” and “cost effective,” appear to have been overlooked.

One $4.5 million grant goes to Lake Lanier Islands Resort, a public-private enterprise, to construct a well for the resort (and its water park!) The resort has never been in danger of running out of water; it just doesn’t want to purchase water from nearby Gainesville, and claims the water saving realized from the well, built with state tax dollars, will enable the resort to build another hotel. Yet, while doling out these gifts to private resorts, state parks are having their funding slashed.

Critical? Cost-effective? No. Cronyism? Yes. The owner of Lake Lanier Islands Resort is Virgil Williams, a Deal campaign contributor and former member of Gov. Zell Miller’s staff. The chair of the development authority that oversees the public-private partnership is Lonice Barrett, a former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner.

HERE IN the Coosa River Basin, critical and cost effective were equally ignored. The big winner in Deal’s water lottery was Paulding County which received a $29.1 million loan for a highly suspect and unpermitted reservoir project.

The Paulding County Commissioners claim the $86.4 million, 305-acre reservoir on Richland Creek is critical to meet the county’s future water demands, but the facts don’t support their claim.

The county’s dam-building consultants, who will ultimately receive the lion’s share of this state loan, project Paulding County will grow by 14,000 residents each year for the next decade. But for the past decade Paulding County has averaged only 5,500 new residents each year, and the recession has virtually stopped growth there. Furthermore, the county has done little to invest in water efficiency, the lowest cost method for securing water supplies.

The reservoir builders predict 2035 water needs will reach 47 million gallons a day (MGD), but a more conservative and realistic number is 24 MGD. Currently, the county uses about 10 MGD—virtually all of which comes from Lake Allatoona. And, recent court decisions suggest that more, not less, water will be available from that federal reservoir.

THE GOOD NEWS for the Coosa River Basin is that Deal’s administration denied money to a public-private consortium wanting to dam Shoal Creek in Dawson County…but with a caveat.

If the corporate giant, American Water, and its public partner, Etowah Water and Sewer Authority, can show that the City of Atlanta (which owns the reservoir site property) is a willing partner, then the state will consider releasing $3 million to “study” this $650 million project. American Water enjoyed revenues of $2.6 billion last year, yet can’t find $3 million of its own to study this project?

A recent report by American Rivers called “Money Pit” — www.AmericanRivers.org/MoneyPit — estimates that Georgia’s current reservoir proposals would cost $10 billion. Taxpayers and water rate payers will be on the hook for that investment.

There are more cost effective ways to secure our water. Replacing water wasting toilets, utilizing our existing reservoirs better, eliminating leaks, and a host of other measures will secure the same water for less money.

Gov. Deal is right in addressing the state’s water supplies, but the methods he has chosen are all wrong. By failing to make water efficiency projects eligible for funding under his water supply program, the Deal water lottery will leave state taxpayers holding losing tickets.

Joe Cook of Rome is executive director and Riverkeeper of the Coosa River Basin Initiative. Readers may contact him at jcook@coosa.org.

 

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