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State's future is tied to water
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Last week the Georgia General Assembly stood in recess during the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday while members of the Appropriations Committee gathered to receive testimony on the fiscal year 2009 budget from various department heads. But prior to the recess, we passed a very important piece of legislation.

It goes without saying that our future is tied to water. With agriculture as our largest economic force, no water equals no crops. In our cities, no water equals no growth and no new businesses. It is imperative that we solve this problem immediately and for the long term. That is why we passed House Resolution 1022, a bill that ratifies the statewide water management plan.   

The 2004 Comprehensive State-wide Water Management Planning Act charged the Water Council and the Environmental Protection Division with development of a comprehensive statewide water plan for sustainable management of water quality and water quantity while supporting our state’s growth.

The State Water Plan developed by the Water Council is not a plan to address the current drought conditions being experienced in different parts of Georgia. It is intended to guide long-term planning and will be implemented in conjunction with existing statutes and regulations that guide responses to drought or other emergency circumstances.

It identifies a set of statewide water management policies that will guide sustainable use of Georgia’s water resources. It describes a “toolbox” of management practices (actions and activities) that can be implemented to meet current and future water needs. Finally, it lays out a framework for regional planning.

Under the new State Water Plan, a series of regional water planning councils would be formed for 11 water planning regions. These water planning councils would oversee regional water plans. The regional water planning councils will each consist of at least 25 members, to be appointed by the governor (13 members), lieutenant governor (six members), and speaker of the House (six members). Water planning council members must reside within the geographical boundaries of the water planning region, and membership requirements include provisions for approximately 30 percent of the membership of each council to be representatives of local governments.

The plan also laid out a number of management practices (some already being widely used in our state; others yet to be fully available for use in Georgia) that comprise a “toolbox of practices” from which local governments — through regional water councils — might select to meet their long-term, water needs. The management practices in the “toolbox” include categories that will allow:

Better management of demand for water (e.g., water conservation);

Improvement in managing the return of water to our rivers and streams after use; and

Provisions for adding water supply capacity (e.g., water supply reservoirs) to our waters.

Provisions for the protection of water quality and management of assimilative capacity for current and future uses and users.

This bill passed the House 131 to 37.

One other bill of note making its way through the Georgia General Assembly is House Bill 301. It is a bill that strengthens the current dogfighting bill that the state already has.  

Due to the recent conviction of the Atlanta Falcons’ star quarterback for dog fighting, the legislation intends to strengthen the current law to felony status with a first offense punished by one to five years imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine.

A second conviction could receive a punishment of one to 10 years’ imprisonment and/or a $15,000 fine. Spectators also would be charged with high misdemeanors with second offenses leading to felony convictions.