ATLANTA — Legislators unhappy with the statewide water management plan signed into law Feb. 6 vowed Wednesday to continue pushing legislation to strengthen and alter it.
“My fear is that in the haste to declare victory and put up the banner that says ‘mission accomplished,’ we may have missed the opportunity for real meaningful reform,” Sen. Preston Smith, R-Rome, said at a news conference hosted by the Georgia Water Coalition. “We had the false sense something had been done.”
Sen. Smith, who voted against the plan two times, said it didn’t make sense that something so important was pushed through so quickly under the weight of a historic drought.
He has criticized from the start the fact legislators could not amend the plan drawn up by the State Water Council that creates 11 regional water council to study water resources and recommend how to manage and conserve them.
Sen. Smith has already sponsored two bills that passed the Senate that gives the Legislature more oversight of the plan’s implementation and the Environmental Protection Division, the agency ultimately in charge of carrying it out.
Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, said there is still hope for changes.
He is also the author of legislation which has cleared the Senate that would provide additional oversight to the process. “This is a work in progress,” he said.
In the House, bills have been submitted to change the makeup of the 25-member water councils and who appoints the members, as well as redrawing the council districts along purely watershed lines.
Lawmakers also said they want to pass stronger laws against interbasin water transfers, instead of simply urging EPD to do so, as they claim the plan does.
Sen. Smith introduced a bill last year, which is still sitting in committee, that would limit interbasin transfers in the Coosa River basin.
The Water Coalition and lawmakers also want to put conservation and efficiency of water use requirements in the water plan, which they said has few actual conservation mandates now.
“We can no longer afford to put off common sense conservation measures.” said Sally Bethea, Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.
The water plan sailed through the Legislature in its opening days and has already been signed by Gov. Sonny Perdue, but it is expected to take three years and about $36 million to implement.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
ON THE WEB
To view the water management plan, visit www.georgiawater council.org/