On the shores of the embattled waters of Lake Lanier, Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue signed into law Tuesday a bill that proponents say will demonstrate the state’s commitment to water conservation.
But whether the Water Stewardship Act will give Georgia leverage in negotiations over the use of the water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin still is unknown.
Talks with the governors of Florida and Alabama over how to share the basin’s water have so far been unsuccessful. Now Georgia needs a compromise after a federal court ruling last year that may limit the state’s use of Lake Lanier as a source of drinking water.
Located near the top of the ACF basin, Lake Lanier is the lifeblood of much of metro Atlanta’s economic engine. But last July, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson said the reservoir was never federally authorized as such. He gave Georgia until July 2012 to come to an agreement with Florida and Alabama or risk losing most of its access to the lake’s water.
The bill Perdue signed Tuesday is the work of a Water Contingency Planning Task Force the governor assembled a few short months after Magnuson’s ruling.
Perdue unveiled the bill in February, and it received overwhelming support in the state legislature. It calls for amendments of state building codes to require water-efficient plumbing fixtures in all newly-constructed residential and commercial buildings. It also provides loan incentives for local governments to build new reservoirs and expand existing reservoirs.
The bill also bans virtually all outdoor water use between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and creates a way to monitor farmers’ withdrawal of surface water.
State Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, who introduced the bill in the state Senate, was on hand as the governor signed the bill. Tolleson said the measure addresses key issues for Georgia and he applauded the group of business leaders and stakeholders responsible for its passage.
“There’s so many people that have been coming to the table and working to put together good policy for the state of Georgia,” Tolleson said. “That’s the important thing going forward as we continue to stay focused on the policy side of this is making sure that our water policies are beneficial to the state and to our neighbors.
“This is so important that we do not get bogged down in politics with water. It’s too important.”
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, R-Gainesville, said the bill shows that Georgia is taking the necessary steps to use less water. He challenged lawmakers in Florida and Alabama to take similar steps.
“(We’re) looking to the future, making sure that we’re demonstrating not only to our state but also to the world that Georgia’s right for business and we will have great natural resources well into the future,” Cagle said.
After signing the bill, Perdue said he intended to come to an agreement with governors of Florida and Alabama before he leaves office in December. Both of those states’ governors are ending their terms as well.
“People don’t know me very well if they think I’d leave things for other people to do,” said Perdue. “This is a great opportunity frankly in our last year of all of our terms to really come to that decision-making ... representing all of our states, but to bring the (legislatures) a proposal that might not could get done in the first term of new governors.”
But while Perdue promised to pursue an agreement until his last day in office, he could not guarantee there would be a compromise by the end of the year.
“It’s ... people representing their own states in the (water) levels and the sharing. It’s like three kids in a sandbox with two toys,” said Perdue. “How do you share appropriately and how do you teach to share?”