Rome Chamber Wants Interbasin Transfer Regulations

Article By Diane Wagner Published in Rome News-Tribune Jan. 5, 2011

Local leaders link water to jobs
by Diane Wagner, staff writer Rn T.Com

Plant Hammond and Temple-Inland each use about three times the amount of water as the city of Rome’s entire customer base, members of the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce heard on Tuesday.

Nearly all of that water is returned to the Coosa River after running through plant systems, City Manager John Bennett said, but low flows in the river put their operations — and jobs — at risk.

“That’s why we’re concerned about interbasin transfers,” Bennett said. “We have plenty of water, but we also have special needs.”

The chamber’s governmental affairs committee and board of directors spent two hours listening to and questioning Bennett and Joe Cook, the executive director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative.

A major issue is how the Atlanta region’s need for water could affect regions in the state that apparently have water to spare.

Pro-business arguments will carry more weight than environmentalists’ pleas to preserve natural habitats, Cook noted.

“This is really a turf war between chambers (of commerce),” he said. “Rome, Augusta, Columbus could all be economic engines of the state in the future — if they don’t send all the water to protect that economic engine in Atlanta.”

In the end, members asked chamber Business and Industry Services Director Sam Freeman to draft a letter asking for two simple changes in proposed regulations.

Instead of saying the Georgia Environmental Protection Director “should” consider a list of 22 criteria before approving a transfer, local leaders want “shall” to be the operative word.

Otherwise, said Stan Foxworthy of Foxworthy Studios, it allows the EPD director to pick and choose criteria to apply to each request, opening the door for favoritism and inequities.

“It doesn’t leave a level playing ground,” he said.

The second change would apply the criteria to all interbasin transfer requests, including expansions of existing permits. As proposed, the regulations expected to be adopted Jan. 26 would apply only to new water transfers.

None of the meeting attendees expect the letter to have an effect on the pending vote, but they want their stance on record as officials move toward legislating a statewide water plan in 2012.

Bennett said the new EPD rules are aimed at staving off action by the state legislature until after the water councils complete their regional plans in June.

No major water transfers are expected to be sought in the next year or two, he said, although plans for reservoirs on the Etowah River in Dawson and Paulding counties could eventually affect Rome.

The Dawson Forest reservoir, including its 30-mile pipeline to serve Atlanta, would be preferable because it is upstream of Lake Allatoona, Bennett said.

“But Atlanta is talking to private investors about it,” he said. “I’m very pro-privatization, … but I’m not sure we want to give up our water supply to private enterprise.”

A Paulding County impoundment below the lake, however, wouldn’t allow for water releases to boost the river flow-volume in times of drought, he said.
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