Agriculture is the economic engine of South Georgia, which is why throughout my time in the legislature, I’ve always worked hard to represent the farmers of our area. I’ve often fought along side Georgia agricultural groups to protect, preserve, and grow Georgia agriculture.
Recently, however, those of us who consider ourselves pro-Georgia agriculture have found ourselves on opposite sides of one piece of legislation.
Over the last two legislative sessions, Senate Bill 213 has caused a continuous stir among the agricultural committee. The bill, which seeks to address issues in the Flint River Basin and Spring Creek, has been surrounded by bouts of misinformation.
After careful study, it is clear to me this legislation has entirely too many unintended consequences. First and foremost, SB 213 transfers the Riparian water rights of private property owners to the EPD Director. This could allow the EPD Director to act as a water “czar” by having absolute authority to pump and maintain stream flows as well as cut off water from North Georgia, effectively causing a manmade drought. Further, granting the EPD Director absolute discretion over drought conditions and emergency situations in the Flint River Basin without any objective standard of measurement could hurt our farmers. The absence of checks and balances could have lasting effects on landowners south of Atlanta.
I recently introduced House Bill 1085 with 37 co-sponsors in an effort to contrast the issues of SB 213 to show there is a way to address the concerns without forfeiting the water rights of landowners. HB 1085 codifies and outlines best practices with strict and specific circumstances where the Environmental Protection Division Director would have necessary discretion in states of emergency. The bill also seeks to protect the endangered species that is so aggressively defended by proponents of SB 213.
Last Thursday, HB 1085 was heard in a rather contentious “hearing-only” Natural Resources committee meeting. We heard from the Director of the EPD and several lobbyists as well as proponents and sponsors of the bill. Currently, the sponsors of the HB 1085 are awaiting a promised formal statement on behalf of the EPD Director outlining the state’s current claim of ownership of private property water rights.
I have always, and will continue, to support Georgia’s farmers, but it is my duty to study legislation myself. SB 213 was recently returned to the House Agriculture Committee and unless the language of the bill is amended to preserve the private property water rights of landowners, I will maintain that SB 213 is not in the best interests of farmers or the State of Georgia.