S. Gordon Rogers: 'Protection' hard to find in this bill

March 8, 2014 

State representatives are currently considering a piece of legislation called the "Flint River Drought Protection Act." For those who understand the bill's far-reaching implications, it's hard to see how this proposal is about any kind of protection at all. The Ledger-Enquirer deserves thanks (and compliments) for its editorial, "Water Plan Has All the Signs of a Trojan Horse" (Feb. 10). A more accurate headline on Georgia's water politics has not been written in quite some time.

About as near as Senate Bill 213 gets to protecting natural resources is language suggesting that during times of low flow in our streams and rivers, state agencies or private parties might pump water out of the ground and put it into streams, "augmenting" stream flow in order to keep aquatic animals from dying in a dried-up streambed. This Band-Aid is already being applied in southwest Georgia, and it has kept endangered mussels alive in dry times. That's right: The state is already doing what they say they need the bill for in a perfectly legal way.

Senate Bill 213 contains language that's linked to a 2012 proposal that would expand "streamflow augmentation" in Southwest Georgia by leaps and bounds. This super-sized "streamflow augmentation" proposal goes far beyond endangered species protection: It suggests that the groundwater of southwest Georgia could be pumped in immense volumes into the (lower) Chattahoochee and Flint rivers, flowing downstream into Florida to appease that state in the ongoing "Water Wars."

As the Ledger-Enquirer correctly states, the beneficiary of such a scheme would be Metro Atlanta, which could fulfill its wildest dreams of withdrawing all the water from the upper Chattahoochee River that it could ever want. (What would the Middle Chattahoochee Valley end up with? Good question.) Never mind that the Metro region's stated water supply goals are unrealistic in terms of actual physical water capacity, in political practicality, and in consistency with Georgia's system of regulated riparian water law.

That's the system of water law that guarantees rights to every Georgian with water on or under their property -- rights to the reasonable use of that water, such that the neighbors downstream get enough to make reasonable use of it as well. Language in Senate Bill 213 would give the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) director the power to deny certain Georgians the right to reasonable use of the water on or under their property.

The bill says that when water is pumped into streams for deliberately undefined "augmentation" purposes, the EPD director decides how long that water stays in the stream, running downstream toward wherever or whoever he says. It gives a bureaucrat, appointed by the governor, the power to choose winners and losers, more power than a judge in fact, according to the plain language of the bill. It is no wonder that Gov. Deal made SB 213 the centerpiece a major water policy speech to the Metro Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta Regional Commission. This is a Metro grab and big business control of the rest of us at its absolute worst.

The bill's proponents claim that the federal government will shut down Georgia's farmers from irrigating their crops if endangered species aren't protected. This is a myth. Georgia's farmers are much more threatened by the efforts to rewrite Georgia water law in the form of Senate Bill 213.

S. Gordon Rogers, Riverkeeper and Executive Director, Flint Riverkeeper, Albany and Fayetteville, Ga,; www.flintriverkeeper.org.

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