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Crawford: State has a plan for a plan on water
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The rains finally came this year, even if not on a biblical scale, and environmental officials in state government now proclaim that Georgia's historic drought has officially "ended."

"Our water supplies are flush," observed Carol Couch, director of the state's Environmental Protection Division, as she discussed the factors that justified her decision that the devastating dry period was over.

For the short term, that is probably an accurate assessment. Rainfall has been near normal levels for several months in North Georgia, where the drought was most severe, and South Georgia has received heavier rainfall than it typically does. Those factors combined to give Georgia its second wettest spring in 115 years, according to state climatologist David Stooksbury.

Gov. Sonny Perdue's attitude seemed to be that with water levels rising and the situation back to normal, Georgians would never had to worry about a drought again.

"We have become more educated about water conservation and have taken significant steps toward ensuring a long term solution," Perdue said. "I believe Georgians will continue to use our water resources wisely under this new outdoor watering schedule."

That would be a good thing if it actually happened, but it's not likely because the state has now eased off on the water usage restrictions it imposed over the past two years to try to keep North Georgia from running out of the precious liquid.

During the three years that Georgia was in the grip of this drought, our elected leadership did a lot of talking about what needed to be done to ensure a future supply of water but didn't do much to put those words into effect. We missed an opportunity to take actions that might have minimized the effects of future droughts.

The General Assembly could have passed legislation that would require builders to use more water-efficient plumbing fixtures in their new construction projects. Those bills were throttled by the real estate and development interests.

Legislators also could have passed a measure that would provide incentives for homeowners and businesses to switch their current plumbing fixtures to low-flow devices as they were replaced, but that didn't happen either.

The state for a long time has needed to develop a comprehensive water management plan that would anticipate future needs and spell out how they would be addressed. Instead, lawmakers adopted a state water plan that contains a lot of policy statements but has no force of law. It's essentially a plan to one day have a plan.

Legislators talked a lot about building several new reservoirs, but that's an expensive proposition at a time when state revenues are down by 10 percent. Reservoirs also disturb the natural flow of waterways and lose much of the water they impound to evaporation.

The one thing legislators did do on the water issue was pass a bill that prohibits local governments from placing more restrictions on usage unless they can first secure approval from the state, a law that encourages more consumption rather than less.

We also had the spectacle of Perdue going before the TV news cameras in the middle of the drought to tell Georgians they would be allowed to fill up their swimming pools again if they wished, never mind that North Georgia was in danger of drying up at the time.

"The hallmark of the Perdue Administration is always the same: when confronted with any problem, first, deny it, then when denying won't work any longer, claim that you are solving it," House Minority Leader DuBose Porter wryly observed. "Then just forget all about it, and wait until your term ends."

Porter added: "Georgia is going to have another drought. Sonny Perdue is leaving us no more prepared for the next drought than he prepared us for the drought that has just mercifully ended."

On that point, Porter is probably correct. You hear people on talk radio everyday who will claim that global warming is a hoax, but it's real and it could cause future droughts that are longer and more devastating than the one we just endured.

Over the past three years, our elected officials should have started implementing some serious measures that might help us survive future shortages of water. Unfortunately for us, they weren't willing to do the job.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact's Georgia Report, an Internet news service that covers government and politics in Georgia. His column appears regularly on Wednesdays.

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