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Consensus on plan good for all
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Standing beside West Point Lake in the spring of 2004, Gov. Perdue signed House Bill 237 into law, establishing the State Water Council, and requiring it to present to the Georgia General Assembly a statewide water management plan for its approval in the 2008 session. And approve they did:  by overwhelming margins, members of Georgia’s House and Senate — rural and urban, Democratic and Republican, from every part of Georgia — voted “yes” to establish Georgia’s first Statewide Water Management Plan.

The Statewide Water Plan is the result of a lengthy, yet open process, in which all interested parties had the opportunity to participate in numerous public meetings throughout Georgia. The Water Council — led by Dr. Carol Couch, director of Georgia EPD, our legislators and Gov. Perdue — is to be commended for its hard work and leadership on this complex issue. They have put into place a meaningful plan, good for all Georgians.

As Gov. Perdue noted that day four years ago near LaGrange, “As Georgia continues to grow and prosper, it is incumbent upon us to develop a comprehensive statewide plan that addresses our long-term water needs and conservation efforts. Water nourishes our environment and is a major driving force of our state’s economy.”  

True to legislative intent, the Water Plan will ensure “Georgia manages water resources in a sustainable manner to support the state’s economy, to protect public health and natural systems, and to enhance the quality of life for all citizens.”  

Yet, I have read articles and editorials from newspapers across Georgia critical of the Water Plan as one that will benefit Metro Atlanta to the detriment of the rest of the state.  While Metro Atlanta may be an easy target for writers more interested in selling newspapers than promoting solutions, such divisive criticism is unproductive and completely unfounded. To be sure, Metro Atlanta, as the largest metropolitan area in the Southeast and the primary engine of Georgia’s economy, is growing, and growth consumes resources.  

But when it comes to water, some pertinent facts about Metro Atlanta never find their way to print. For example, Metro Atlanta’s water use ranges between just 1-2 percent of the average water flow at the Florida line; 1 percent in years with normal rain fall, rising to 2 percent in periods of sustained drought, as we have experienced in the last year. If all water use ceased in Metro Atlanta, the impact on water flow at the Georgia-Florida line would be an increase of 1-2 percent.

Likewise, it is rarely reported that the main sponsors of HB 237, which resulted in the Statewide Water Plan, are from rural Georgia (Rep. Bob Hanner of Parrott, Rep. Tom McCall of Elberton, Rep. Richard Royal of Camilla, and Rep. Lynn Smith of Newnan, all still serving in the House and all voted for the plan), as is Gov. Perdue, who signed the enabling legislation into law. The four chairs of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committees in the House and Senate — each of whom voted to approve the Water Plan — represent rural districts in east, south, central and west Georgia. The Georgia Water Council, the 14-member panel of state officials and private citizens that crafted the Water Plan, reads like a “who’s who” of rural Georgia.

The fact is nothing in the plan favors one part of Georgia over another. The plan is truly statewide in scope.  It is the first step in a multi-year process of assessing Georgia’s water resources and the demands placed on these resources by cities, agriculture, business and industry.  The plan promotes sustainable water use and lays the foundation for economic growth and prosperity for the state and its nine million citizens, while protecting our environment.  

No, Metro Atlanta is not the cause of Georgia’s water woes, but rather the result of the simultaneous occurrence of a multi-year, historic drought gripping the Southeastern U.S. and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ operations of Lake Lanier, which allowed significantly larger than normal releases of water from Lanier to meet artificially high minimum flows at the Florida line, without ever allowing the reservoir to refill. Sadly, as a result, many Georgia businesses have laid off workers; some have filed bankruptcy.

As chair of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, I am proud of the constructive role our members and we played working with the Water Council, the Legislature and the Perdue Administration in shaping this plan. We strongly support and endorse the Water Plan, for we recognize that a balanced water management regime is critical to the long-term viability of Georgia’s economy and the quality of life we all cherish.

We support the concept of regional water councils, and we encourage local business and civic leaders to serve on these bodies. We are absolutely convinced that the Water Plan is good for all of Georgia, our communities, our environment and our economy.

Charles K. Tarbutton of Sandersville is the 2008 chairman of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce.