Guest Post: Senate Bill 213 Is Good News For Farmers

March 10, 2014 7:30 am

by Buzz Brockway · 4 comments

Below is a guest post from Judson H. Turner, Director, Georgia Environmental Protection Division regarding Senate Bill 213. Last week we had a guest post in opposition to Senate Bill 213 from Rep. Delvis Dutton.

When I became Director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) on January 1, 2012, the southern part of the state was in the throes of a significant multi-year drought. By some measures, this was the worst drought on record in the lower Flint River Basin where historically low stream flows were recorded. To make matters worse, several federally-protected animal species inhabit stretches of these streams.

EPD took several steps to address the drought impacts in the basin. First, with local and federal partners, we initiated a pilot project in one of the creeks where endangered mussels were identified, to augment the surface water flows with a modest amount of groundwater. Second, consideration of all new agricultural surface water and Floridan aquifer groundwater permits in the lower Flint River Basin was suspended. Finally, I began exploring a set of substantive revisions to the Flint River Drought Protection Act.

In the meantime, we also worked with leaders in the General Assembly and the agricultural community on a few targeted adjustments to the Act to help us manage through any intervening droughts until these more substantive changes could be made. The product of that effort is Senate Bill 213, introduced by Senator Ross Tolleson in 2013 and presently pending before the House of Representatives.

As the debate over Senate Bill 213 continues, the facts are being replaced with unfounded concerns and rumors. Here are the facts: the legislation clarifies the EPD Director’s authority to suspend surface water withdrawals below a state-funded augmentation project during an extreme drought. Such suspension would occur where the state augments flow in streams that would otherwise risk losing all surface water flow. In a very practical sense, without augmented water in those stream stretches, there would not be any water for those surface water withdrawals anyway.

The state’s direct regulation of groundwater and surface water withdrawals over 100,000 gallons per day (gpd) has existed in Georgia since the 1970s. The provisions of Senate Bill 213 related to suspension of surface water withdrawals apply only to those holding agricultural permits to withdraw more than 100,000 gpd. Contrary to the protests of some, this bill is not a wild expansion of the EPD Director’s power or a fundamental shift in the state’s water use law. The misinformation and scare tactics used in the debate around this bill make it evident that the clarification this bill would provide is needed now and can’t wait until we face the next emergency.

The state is committed to developing a set of drought management tools that fit the specific geology of the lower Flint River Basin, which can be successfully used to protect minimum stream flows and, at a minimum, stave off any draconian, judge-made or federally imposed management solutions aimed at protecting endangered species. By the next drought, working with those interested in the basin’s resources, I hope to have the tools in place to protect minimum flows, avoid endangered species litigation and manage through the scarcity by successfully balancing the needs of the varied users in the basin.

GG March 11, 2014 at 1:18 pm

The Governor and the EPD have no interest in protecting anyone but special interest groups in supporting SB 213. When Perry Georgia State Senator Tolleson, Chairman of the State Natural Resources and Environment Committee refused to allow a vote on SB 306 that extended the moratorium on ASR (Aquifer Storage and Recovery) that had been in place since 1999 it became even more obvious. A little common sense tells you that pumping CHEMICALLY TREATED water into pristine aquifers is not a good idea. ASR poses a threat to all Georgia aquifers. Since sh*t typically runs downhill, Coastal Georgia seems to be the target of Nathan Deal and the EPD. Remember the Ogeechee. NO DEAL.

xdog March 11, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Lower Flint River flow is inadequate in times of drought since the big boys upstream get to draw water first. To counter low flow, the demo project in SWGA pumps from one aquifer to another. They’re not pumping chemically treated water. They intend to run the demo for a while, then stop and evaluate it to see if it’s safe and if the project is scalable.

ASR technology is already used many places, Arizona, Oregon and Nevada for example. I have concerns about safety myself. But if it works in Baker County it could provide a cheap means to insure adequate water. The state has budgeted $5M for the demo; given the possible payoff, that seems cheap to me.

Bloodhound March 13, 2014 at 9:49 am

GG nailed it! The revisions made to SB213 are headed in the right direction but we need to hold firm and be certain that when it returns to the Senate that the Senate does not insist on its previous position.

Pumping water from one source to another, treated or not, is never a good idea. You never know how the microcritters living in one ecosystem will effect microcritters in another ecosystem.

Bloodhound March 13, 2014 at 4:57 pm

The Senate has passed SB213 as amended by the House.

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