Georgia’s rain shortfall and dire drought predictions have led to restrictions across the state on outdoor water use even though, as one county water conservation official admitted, “It’s like driving on the interstate. You know that speeding is illegal, and you might slow down when you see a police officer on the side of the road, but once you pass him you go back to speeding.”
Clearly, the punitive drought management approach of warning then fining transgressors is only a Band-Aid. Even more clear is that policy-makers and legislators can’t solve the long-term challenges with burdensome, overly restrictive regulations that disregard the needs of a growing population and economy as demands on water resources grow.
To its credit, the proposed water management plan recognizes that Georgia’s hydrological diversity rules out a statewide, one-size-fits-all approach to managing those resources. But while “sustainability,” watershed-based planning and other environmentally friendly sound bites get great play, the economic impact of decisions on industry, including agriculture and mining – and therefore the state’s economy – deserve far greater consideration in the water management plan.
For example, call it selfishness, call it self-preservation, but regions outside Atlanta resist helping meet the needs of metro Atlanta, the economic engine of the state. Closing off the metro region to new interbasin transfers should not be tolerated by planning officials; it’s a regressive, political ploy that defies common sense.
Georgia’s ability to transfer water to where it is needed; its opportunity to take advantage of a rainy day and store water to compensate for dry spells, and a capacity for flexibility are vital components of a management plan. The foundation for that plan must be a scientific assessment that provides sound data, unambiguous definitions and cost-benefit analysis. And an adequate, broad-based funding stream for this assessment, which will set the course for the state’s future, is critical.
Industry and the public good are frequently portrayed as incompatible. But the cost and ease of doing business in this state are what translates into job opportunities, higher wages and salaries, a lower cost of living and a better quality of life. As the Georgia Public Policy Foundation frequently notes, “Ideas have consequences.”
While local input is desirable, the expertise of decision-makers and agendas of the “stakeholders” influencing regional planning must be taken into account. Good intentions are not enough: Zealous anti-development campaigns to hinder property rights by restricting septic tanks, or diminish humans’ access to water in order to “save the critters,” must provide scientific evidence of the crisis and the need for the proposed resolution of that crisis.
A major newspaper noted recently that Lake Lanier is holding just three months’ storage while water is being sent downstream, purportedly to save the critters, “But no one knows whether the mussels — the endangered fat threeridge and threatened purple bankclimber — actually need the 3 billion gallons they get every day.”
Another example of the consequences of ideas is evident in the campaign to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, which has inspired efforts to grow the ethanol industry in Georgia. But that also impacts water use, and the management plan offers conservation and efficiency measures as major demand management tools. A report released on Oct. 10 by the National Research Council on ethanol production and water challenges notes that, “A bio-refinery that produces 100 million gallons of ethanol a year would use the equivalent of the water supply for a town of about 5,000 people.” According to the American Coalition for Ethanol, it takes about 3.5 gallons of water to produce one gallon of ethanol.
What matters to Georgians is results, and government should not dictate but allow industry to innovate, to produce results effectively and cost-efficiently.
If a water management plan results in uncertainty, inflexibility, over-regulation, micromanagement and time-consuming bureaucracy, taxpayers will bear the brunt as the marketplace is restricted and costs are passed on. Georgians have until the end of the month to demand a plan that holds water: a plan that is scientifically sound, economically viable, market-based, adequately funded, clearly defined and respectful of property rights.
Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, an independent think tank that proposes practical, market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians.