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Water plan draws comments about conservation
Task force meets today to consider revising plan to direct $300 million to new reservoirs, wells
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Many commenting on a plan to spend millions on Georgia's water security want that plan to make room for water conservation projects.

Georgia's Water Supply Task Force will meet today to consider whether to make those revisions.

The group made public in November a draft of a plan to direct $300 million toward new reservoirs and wells in Georgia.

The plan was a result of action by Gov. Nathan Deal, who 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.

It is an 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.

Residents had until Dec. 5 to comment on the plan put forth by the governor's task force. Nearly 350 answered the call.

Of those, more than 275 submitted comments through a form letter drafted by the Georgia Environmental Action Network, though about 20 added their own comments to the letter. Their comments urged the group to "use tax money wisely" and "invest in water efficiency" and were echoed by members of the Georgia Water Coalition and other residents in separate letters.

The current draft of the plan, which focuses mostly on new construction, does not include a funding mechanism for conservation projects.

It 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.

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.

GEFA officials say conservation projects were not included in the plan because the authority already has millions of dollars set aside for those projects.

Also, 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, Clark said, would be more difficult.

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

Aside from those seeking more money for conservation, a number of those who submitted comments hope that money is spent on expanding an existing reservoir.

A number of those commenting, like recreational boater Tom Biederman, asked the task force to use some of the funds to raise the level of Lake Lanier by 2 feet.

"The lake already exists, there is no significant infrastructure funding requirement, and the amount of additional water retention is massive," wrote Forsyth County resident Michael Dukes. "An increased full pool would allow more retention in times of abundant supply, and less negative impact upon homeowners like me in times of shorter supply."

Others, including several members of the Lake Lanier Association, also asked that the money be used to dredge sediment from Lanier.

Barrow County water officials have asked the task force to consider allocating some of the money for local groups to use on permitting, land purchases and environmental mitigation costs. The Barrow authority has also asked that the task force not "punish" local water authorities for not taking a regional approach to their water supply projects.

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

Barrow has plans to build a project that will only serve Barrow County residents, and does not want its project to be less of a priority to those doling out the $300 million.