Sep 17, 2007

Georgia Plan Raises Questions

Lawmakers have more questions about their role in approving Georgia's draft water plan than they do about the contents of the document. And they have more than a few concerns about the content.

The state Water Council will release a revision Thursday of the plan's first draft, which would govern how water is used in Georgia, from withdrawals for drinking and industrial uses to disposal of treated wastewater.

The Water Council will submit its final draft of the policy on the first day of the General Assembly in January. Lawmakers will vote on whether to accept it, but they won't have the ability to change what the council submits.

If rejected, the plan can be revised and resubmitted by the 20th day of the legislative session. Or the legislators can draft their own version, something that has taken the council two years to do.

Ms. Couch said her agency would look at where the population is growing and at ways to use water more efficiently in deciding how much water to permit to be withdrawn.

"Everything that will be implemented comes with a cost," she said.

Several lawmakers and members of the public have also expressed concern about the authority the EPD director will hold.

For example, Augusta-Richmond County Planning Director George Patty submitted a written comment about the original draft, one of dozens.

"The powers of the EPD Director are staggering," he wrote. "Future EPD directors may not be as open and fair as the present director has been."

Rep. Greg Morris, R-Vidalia, addressed it head-on.

"What additional power is delegated to the EPD and the director that doesn't exist today?"

Ms. Couch replied that her position is empowered by 26 state and federal laws and that the draft of the plan didn't give her any new power. The difference is how directors dealt with the past and how complicated future decisions will be, she said.