Mullis wants Tennessee exempt from water rules

Mullis wants Tennessee exempt from water rules

February 25th, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

Georgia senators introduced a bill Wednesday that would make it tougher to transfer water from one river to another.

On the same day, a group of Georgia legislators including Chickamauga's Sen. Jeff Mullis proposed a bill stating those rules should not apply to creeks in the Tennessee River basin.

Senate Bill 128 gives a list of criteria to be considered before the state issues permits for interbasin transfers, the controversial but widely used practice of pumping water from one basin and discharging it into another.

Senate Bill 132 states transfers out of the Chickamauga Valley and Lookout Mountain areas "shall be exempt from any restriction or interbasin transfers of water" included in the code.

It's an apparent flip-flop for Mullis, who last year sponsored the failed River Basin Protection Act that specifically included the Tennessee basin and would have imposed similar rules to this year's Bill 128.

Attempts to reach Mullis were unsuccessful Thursday.

The 2011 bill exempting the Tennessee basin was co-authored by Mullis; Sen. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville; Sen. Judson Hill, R-Marietta; Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega; and Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock.

Attempts to reach each of the authors were unsuccessful Thursday, and messages left with staff members for Hill and Gooch were not returned. A spokeswoman for Loudermilk said the senator declined to comment Thursday but would discuss the bill next week.

The new water transfer bill contains a list of criteria such as how the transfer will affect water quality in donor and receiving basins that state officials will consider when evaluating transfer permits.

The rules are similar to those the state's Department of Natural Resources adopted in January. However, the proposed bill states the regulations "shall" be considered rather than the DNR's rules' "should" be considered, which environmentalists criticized as being too weak. The department had hoped adopting the criteria would pre-empt the legislators from passing laws similar to the ones proposed this week.

Joe Cook, executive director of the Coosa River Basin Initiative, said he and others support the Senate bills' strong regulations but fault the bill exempting the Tennessee basin.

"What Sen. Mullis' bill does is it exempts transfers from the Tennessee from the very studies that help us make an informed decision," he said. "It's a bad idea for Georgia and a bad idea for Tennessee."

While the new bills were being introduced in Atlanta, members of the Coosa-North Georgia Water Planning Council were in Jasper, Ga., making sure language in their water plan would not put the Tennessee basin "off-limits."

At one point, Water Council Vice Chairman David Ashburn specifically mentioned a water line from the Tennessee basin to Marietta as a hypothetical example. During the council's two-year existence, Ashburn frequently has promoted the idea of pumping water from Lookout, Chattanooga and Chickamauga creeks into a reservoir and south toward Metro Atlanta.

"The Tennessee River won't miss it," Ashburn told the council Wednesday.

Officials with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation said Thursday the agency had not received any request from Georgia but said it could not regulate water on streams that were in Georgia.