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Water hearing turns into question session

Residents ask about property rights, well water users

POSTED: October 23, 2007 5:01 a.m.
North Georgia residents poured out concerns over the state’s water plan and drought response Tuesday night.

Nearly 150 people attended the public hearing on a new draft of the Environmental Protection Division’s statewide Water Management Plan.

Despite the moderator’s reminder that the Water Council had not come to answer questions about the drought, many speakers raised questions about state officials’ next move to conserve water and
create more water resources.

Bill Tannehill, representing the city of Oscarville, asked why the state does not strive to take over management of water resources from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

"How in the world can you manage something that you don’t own?" Tannehill asked.

Larry Nix, a Belmont resident speaking on behalf of the Georgia Farm Bureau, said the use of water is a private property right, and farmers should be given a priority during times of drought because agriculture is Georgia’s biggest industry.

"Of all stakeholders, farmers are at the most risk," Nix said. "Without timely access to irrigation ... farmers will lose their total investment in that crop. Damage to agriculture adversely affects the economy of this entire state."

He said farmers should be present on committees that impact water use in Georgia, and that water-use decisions should be made on a regional basis by the stakeholders in that region.

"We oppose the creation of huge ... bureaucracies to manage Georgia’s water," Nix said.

Horace Gee, environmental administrator for Gainesville, asked the state for help on how to deal with well water users who were using the resource to maintain ornamental plants with disregard to other human needs. He said if the drought is bad enough to require severe restrictions, then the state should provide guidance on how to deal with residents who draw water from alternate sources such as wells.

"This is all part of the aquifer that we’re dealing with, and all the water that is being withdrawn is limiting the water to be used for drinking water needs," Gee said.

Dennis Mobley, owner of a landscaping business, said that the state had taken landscapers’ livelihoods away with the watering ban. He said if the state was going to cut water use by 20 percent, then all industries should have to share the burden of water conservation.

"We are the only ones — the green industry — who have been told we’ve got to turn our water off," Mobley said.

"We recognize that there’s a water shortage ..." Mobley said. "I just don’t understand why it can’t be uniform across the board for anybody that’s using water."

Another representative of the landscaping industry, Mark Fokely, said it is important to plant more plants at a time like this, because plants clean the air, cool the air and slow down water runoff.

He said landscapers should encourage customers to plant drought-resistant plants and install cisterns to catch water runoff to have landscapes that work under drought conditions.

Rusty Hodges, a Jackson resident, said the state needs to make more of an effort to create more water reservoirs, because water conservation would not be sufficient to serve the population of Georgia. He suggested that the state look into tapping into the Tennessee River.

"Don’t conserve," Hodges said. "Increase the supply."

The state’s Environmental Protection Division drafted the new water management plan in accordance with Georgia House Bill 237.

The bill requires that the plan show that "Georgia manages water resources in a sustainable manner to support the state’s economy, to protect public health and natural systems, and to enhance the quality of life for all citizens."

The Water Council will hold the hearings across the state through Oct. 19, but anyone who wants to comment on the current draft of the plan can do so on the Georgia Water Council Web site until Oct. 30.

The Water Council will then review and vote on the management plan on Nov. 9 before the second round of public hearings. The Water Council will adopt the final version of the plan on Dec. 21.

Those interested in the state’s water management plan can view it at www.georgiawatercouncil.org where they can submit comments on the Water Council Web site through Oct. 30.



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