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10/17/99 - ACCG-GMA Joint Task Force on Water Resource Policy

City and County Governments Work on State Water Policy

OCONEE COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
Wendell Dawson, Chairman
P.O. Box 145
Watkinsville, Ga 30677

Phone 706 769-5120
     Fax     706 769-0705

October 17, 1999

Re:  ACCG-GMA Joint Task Force on Water Resource Policy

By Wendell Dawson, Chairman, Oconee County Board of Commissioners

            The Joint Task Force met in Macon on October 14 & 15.   On the afternoon of October 14, one of the speakers was Dr. Stephen Draper, principal in The Draper Group, 1401 Peachtree Street, NE; Suite 500, Atlanta Georgia 30309.  Dr Draper is a water expert who is an unpaid advisor to Governor Roy Barnes.  Dr Draper has impressive credentials in the Water field.  He is a graduate of West Point, has a PhD in Water Management policy, an Environmental Law Degree and a Bachelor of Business Administration from Georgia State.  He worked with the Corps of Engineers for over 20 years and helped author the Model Riparian Code.   He has spent considerable time looking into the Georgia water resource situation and has spent considerable time with the ACCG-GMA staff of the Georgia Water Management Campaign,  a two year effort by the two local government associations, EPD, EPA, GEFA and others.

            Dr. Draper pointed out how population growth has brought water policy management to the forefront in Georgia.  Florida and the Western States have been struggling with it longer.  Florida is divided into five Water Management Regions managed by a water management authority with much control over water matters in their respective areas.  One speaker pointed out that one Water Management Region in Florida has an annual budget of over $00 Million and Georgia only budgets $0 Million a year for the entire state through the Environmental Protection Division (EPD).

            Dr Draper said Georgia needs more committment of resources and a more coordinated state policy on water resources.   He said various responsibilities are two fragmented among too many agencies: i.e., Department of Natural Resources,  NRCS, EPD, and the Dept of Community affairs being responsible for groundwater acquifer recharge.   He feels that Water Development takes a back seat to Enforcement of Federal Law on Clean Water.

            He says we will need more water to accommodate the population growth that is expected.  He said you can’t and don’t want to stop growth for the state.  The state needs a more comprehensive and aggressive water development program.

            He said Washington State has a model for voluntary watershed coordination and planning which is state funded.  He thinks Georgia needs a Commission to look at Georgia water laws and structure.   It needs to be an agency to facilitate planning and the State and Region must help.  (emphasis added)

            He says the State should offer incentives for Best Management Practices.  There should be both a carrot and stick approach.   The State must commit more money, people and training of personnel to deal with this very important area.

            He also acknowledged that some tough issues must be faced by the State relating to exemptions to the Soil Erosion & Sedimentation Control Law: i.e., State Agencies such as Ga DOT, Mining Operations and Agricultural exemptions.   Irrigation of large acreages in Southwest Ga threatens the water supply for that part of the state and during drought could cause the Flint River to run dry.  This issue could effect the results of the ongoing “water war discussions” with Ala and Fla.  He pointed out that Agriculture Use gets a “bad break”  because it has to draw on water reserves at the worst time for availability and without any measuring of the use.  My sense was that  reservoir planning at a state and regional level is necessary.

            I had a personal conversation with Dr. Draper during the break and explained Oconee’s involvement with many water issues including the development of water resources.  I explained that after many years of working with the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, Water Management Campaign, efforts in Oconee County, and the ACCG-GMA Joint Task Force this year,  I feel the issue is too complex for quick, simple solutions.  I told him I felt strongly that  water was our most important  state resource and the state had a responsibility to help and commit resources for development  of this resource and not just the role of a policeman.  He said “I totally agree”.   He acknowledged that others, including Harold Reheis and EPD, are advising the Governor on water matters. The Governor will make the final decision on a direction.

            He emphasized the state’s support and regional, voluntary planning.  He thinks the Governor could start now before the election cycle or wait until his second term to move aggressively.  He does have a “lot on his plate” at this time.

            While some were not sure how much influence Dr Draper could have on the eventual water policy reaching the status of law, his comments on development of water resources was well received by everyone. 

            The next day, our group had an active discussion about how the state needs a more supporting role, in helping to  facilitate and in being  more consistent in its policies.  Others  in the joint task force have experienced similar frustrations of having to deal with an enforcement agency on all of these issuesMany have sensed the lack of a clearly defined state policy and the inconsistency of the state on water matters.   I told the group that I described the situation as a maze or  like “chasing rabbits”.  Someone said that Lindsey Thomas, former Congressman facilitating the three state Water Compact discussions (Ga, Fla & Ala), has described water policies and regulations as like “herding cats”!

            I also made a statement that likened water resource development and importance to that of Highways.  Long ago the state (and all governments for that matter) recognized that the state had an important and critical role in planning and developing a coordinated and integrated transportation system.  The state builds Interstate Hwys and Four Lanes that go through local jurisdictions and connects the state.   Local governments are incapable of building a state or region wide system that reaches across multi-jurisdictional boundaries.  We have the same problem with water sources that touch many jurisdictions and the state must do much more than just  withhold permits until “we all work together on a regional basis”.  The State has a much larger responsibility and duty than that of enforcement or policing.  It must help do it.

            The Task Force ended the meeting by discussing the drafting of our policy vision, goals and recommended action plan for sharing with our legislators, local government  officials, and citizens.  We acknowledged that our efforts to influence state water policy would fail unless it was recognized as being broad and inclusiveAny policy to be successful must be equitable as to population factors, Agricultural needs,  the needs of Business and Industry, recreational needs, environmental impact and the effect on citizens and local communities.

                                                                          Wendell Dawson


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