State revisits interbasin transfers, worries environmentalists | Online Athens

21
Oct

State revisits interbasin transfers, worries environmentalists | Online Athens

ATLANTA – Georgia officials are trying a new approach to getting ample drinking water in the northern part of the state.

For the first time, the state will have a way to transfer water from reservoirs on one stream and move it to another that is depleted by drought. Environmental organizations that oppose the building of reservoirs object to this new plan.

Downstream communities like Athens, Augusta, Savannah and Brunswick have generally opposed such interbasin transfers when used to provide water for upstream drinking and industry. They may be no happier about transfers for boosting the flow of streams in other regions for the sake of endangered species and drought mitigation.

The state’s policy change just took effect this month, and opponents haven’t had many public opportunities to vent.

It is the result of a change in the rules for distributing $44 million in grants. The initial rule was part of a program Gov. Nathan Deal launched in 2011 to provide funds to local governments seeking to build reservoirs or dig wells.

At that time, the rules required the state to take possession of the land that would be flooded by the new lake over the life of the bonds sold for financing. At the end of the bonds, the local government would have been required to buy out the state’s ownership.

But few local governments wanted to participate on that basis, according to Shane Hix, spokesman for the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority that operates the program.

In response, the state changed the rules so that it gets access to some of the water. How much water the state takes depends on each individual project.

“That’s going to be handled on a case-by-case basis as each one is negotiated,” Hix said.

That may create a dicey arrangement, warns Tom Gehl, government-relations director for the Georgia Municipal Association, a trade group for city officials.

“If I’m a local government, I’d be very careful about how it might impact our local service agreements to our own customers,” he said.

via State revisits interbasin transfers, worries environmentalists | Online Athens.

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