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Deadline to comment on water supply plan is today
Task force draft allocates $300M for state projects
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Today is the last day to comment on a draft plan to secure Georgia's water supply using some $300 million in taxpayers' dollars.

The plan, which seeks to direct most spending toward new reservoirs and wells to achieve water security in Georgia, is likely to land on Gov. Nathan Deal's desk later this month.

If approved, local water supply developers could begin competing for the money as early as January.

Leaders of key state agencies Deal called together earlier this year drafted the plan and offered it for public comment last month.

It includes the possibility for the state to directly invest in local or regional water supply projects and lease facilities back to local governments who couldn't afford them.

It also includes restructuring an existing state loan program for water supply infrastructure and allows the state to help local governments join private entities to fund water supply projects.

Deal, in a January executive order, charged the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority with creating the task force to assist local governments with meeting future water needs.

The order was the governor's effort at expanding the state's water supply while also battling Alabama and Florida over shared water that flows from Lake Lanier and Lake Allatoona.

The plan seeks to encourage regional water supply projects over isolated local ones.

It also allows the state's Department of Community Affairs to issue annual bonds to pay for all or parts of water supply projects.

While the state would pay for reservoir projects, in whole or in part, it would not use money to fund a water conservation project.

Environmental and water advocacy groups, who have long argued the fiscal feasibility of conservation projects over the construction of new reservoirs, have already claimed the plan is not feasible.

The Georgia Water Coalition issued a statement on the plan last week claiming the $300 million "will not support the most cost-effective projects available to local communities and, when all is said and done, may not secure one drop of new water."

The decision to only make direct investments in construction projects has to do more with the state's ability to claim ownership over the assets, said Kevin Clark, executive director of GEFA.

As rules for bonds go, the state would have to own whatever it paid for using those bond revenues, officials have said.

Claiming ownership of an asset involved in a water conservation project, he said, would be more difficult.

If approved, the plan would modify an existing state loan program administered through GEFA, allowing local governments to take as many as 40 years to pay off the low-interest loans. Currently, the limit on paying off those loans is 20 years.

Another provision in the draft plan makes GEFA available to advise governments seeking to enter into a partnership with a private entity seeking to help pay for a water supply project. In those cases, GEFA could provide legal and financial advice for those arrangements.

The public can submit comments to the draft plan online until 5 p.m. today. GEFA employees will then compile the comments for the Water Supply Task Force to consider when they make a final decision on the plan later this month.

 

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