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Perdue comes to shores of Lake Lanier to sign bill to spur reservoir development
Gov. Sonny Perdue signs the reservoir bill Tuesday at Van Pugh Park in South Hall County. - photo by Tom Reed

FLOWERY BRANCH — Gov. Sonny Perdue used the sagging shoreline of Lake Lanier as the backdrop to sign a bill that state officials believe will help expedite the building of new reservoirs.

The Water Conservation and Drought Relief Act of 2008 is intended to streamline the state portion of reservoir construction and expansion. The Environmental Protection Division will assist local governments’ efforts to expedite aspects of permitting for new reservoir applications.

"I want you to take a look behind me," Perdue said at Van Pugh Park. "We’ve got a beautiful reservoir with a lot of shoreline still left. But what you see is more than just a lake, it’s a vital resource for our state."

He said he hoped the lake was "healing," citing a combination of problems last year that dropped Lanier to its lowest level since it filled up years ago.

"Some of it was self-inflicted, but primarily from the drought, this reservoir was at extreme risk," Perdue said. "We all heard about that last fall, all the way to the White House. Everywhere I traveled across the United States, people wanted to know about Lake Lanier and our water situation."

The director of the state Environmental Protection Division, Carol Couch, said while Lanier had improved, it was near it’s highest point for 2008.

"I believe the lake level you’re seeing right now may go up inches, to a foot, but from here out, this is the normal time the lake starts decreasing elevation because of the warm weather," said Couch, who was with Perdue at the signing ceremony. "What you’re seeing is probably the high level for this year."

Meanwhile, the governor said when it comes to negotiations over water in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin, the states must learn the basics of sharing.

"Having been in a family with more than an only child, you have to learn how to share," Perdue said. "When there is not enough cake or pie to go around, you share. That’s what we’re asking Florida to do, and we hope they come around."

The governor said Georgia has made great strides to convey its needs to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin.

"I think we’ve gone a long way in our understanding of the ... water system over the past 12 months," Perdue said. "We didn’t think we had the attention of the people who were really in charge of managing this vital resource, Lake Lanier. I think we have that now. They’ve learned a lot, and we’ve learned a lot, and we’re certainly communicating better."

The corps’ current interim operating agreement for the basin expires at the end of May, and a proposed plan is under review by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Florida, citing the effects on aquatic life in the Apalachicola Bay, is strongly opposing the proposal.

Perdue was flanked by a number of legislative leaders, including House Speaker Glenn Richardson, R-Hiram, as well as top state environmental officials, who said the new law will consolidate the state’s part in reservoir construction and provides a mechanism for potential funding.

However, reservoirs on river systems managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers require federal approval, a process that can take several years.

"After facing one of the worst droughts in our state’s history, we are taking the necessary steps to ensure an adequate water supply that meets future needs," Perdue said.

This legislation creates a Water Supply Division and establishes the Georgia Reservoir Fund within the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority. The supply division will assist local governments with the reservoir and water supply permitting process in coordination with the Environmental Protection Division. The division may also plan, design, acquire, construct, operate, manage and maintain new reservoirs on behalf of local governments. The fund will be used for allocating the reservoir and water system infrastructure funds provided in the state budget.

Initial funding for the Georgia Reservoir Fund was included in the amended 2008 and new 2009 budgets. In the 2008 budget, Perdue recommended, and the General Assembly appropriated, $40 million in grants for local governments to develop reservoirs. In the fiscal year 2009 budget, the General Assembly approved $30 million in loans for local governments.

"During this drought, (the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority) has provided emergency grants and loans to a variety of communities across the state," said authority Executive Director Chris Clark. "While Georgia may never be drought proof, we are doing the things necessary to better prepare ourselves for the next drought and all the ones that will follow."

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