Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday approved a plan to direct hundreds of millions of state funds toward future water supply projects.
Local governments can begin competing for the money as early as January, which will be awarded in the form of low-interest loans or as direct state investments in the development of new reservoirs and wells in Georgia.
A governor-appointed task force drafted the plan and sent it to Deal for his signature Dec. 15.
It directs some $300 million in spending on water supply projects in the state over the next four years.
The first awards should be made in summer 2012, and would serve as the culmination of one of Deal's first actions as Georgia governor.
Shortly after being sworn into the office in January, Deal issued an executive order charging
the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority with creating a plan to help local governments develop new sources of water in Georgia.
The plan was supposed to identify "the most effective approaches" to creating new sources of water in Georgia, financing options and a way to select projects for state funding awards.
The plan was released to the public for comment in November, and generated 346 responses, most of which were made through a form letter requesting that the funds also be made available for water conservation projects.
The plan Deal approved Wednesday does not include a funding mechanism for conservation projects.
GEFA officials say conservation projects were not included in the plan because the authority already has millions of dollars set aside for those projects.
In a prepared statement, Deal made no mention of the more than 250 comments submitted by members of the Georgia Environmental Action Network and other environmental groups asking that some of the money be directed toward conservation projects.
"Gov. Deal understands the (Water Supply Task Force) took all public comment into consideration and held open meetings in which the public was able to attend," wrote Deal spokeswoman Stephanie Mayfield in an email response to The Times. "He appreciates the expertise and guidance the council provided in developing an adequate plan for the future of the state's water supply demands."
A representative from the Georgia Environmental Action Network did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The plan does include 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.
The plan also makes low-interest loan funds available for project planning and permitting, a carrot that Hall County officials, in the midst of a lengthy permitting process for a proposed North Hall reservoir, had said they hoped the state would dangle.
The plan limits planning-only loans to $3 million per year per borrower.
Other parts of the plan include 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.