Gov. Sonny Perdue's policy of cutting down on demand for water by restricting usage is all well and good, top state lawmakers said, but they intend to boost the region's supply as well.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and House Speaker Glenn Richardson on Oct. 25 said they plan to allocate millions of dollars in state bond financing during the 2008 legislative session to construct and expand reservoirs across north Georgia.
Their aim, both men said, is to ensure this year's record drought does not persist for years to come.
Cagle and Richardson also will back legislation to speed up the reservoir permitting process, which can take years, cutting the time down to as little as three months. Ideally, Cagle said, some additional capacity could be online within two years.
That's a more ambitious goal than the one set by Carol Couch, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, in the state's new comprehensive water management plan. Couch wants to reduce the average time it takes to bring new reservoirs from concept to completion from 14 years to about seven.
While her agency's plan primarily focuses on conserving water, Cagle and Richardson intend to concentrate on securing more of it.
"If we can capture more of the rainfall and manage it properly, we can sustain our needs well into the future," Cagle said.
The state would let cities and counties decide where to put new reservoirs, Richardson said. Local governments would also pitch in on the funding, which could involve public-private partnerships, he said.
In own county of Paulding, Richardson said, a huge tract of land has been cleared with the aim of building a reservoir, but the project lacks financing to proceed. In neighboring Haralson County, he said, the permitting process was so arduous that local authorities eventually gave up on a new reservoir there.
Getting federal environmental regulators to approve reservoirs faster may be difficult, given the state's current relationship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Both Cagle and Richardson took shots at the Corps for releasing large quantities of water from Lake Lanier, the region's primary water source, to preserve endangered species in Florida at the expense of Atlantans.
"We have an agency called the Environmental Protection Agency and our Environmental Protection Division, but we don't have anything called the Human Protection Agency and the Human Protection Division," Richardson said. "We think it's time that we modify our priorities and start protecting people."
Perdue and local officials from across the region have asked President George W. Bush to temporarily exempt Georgia from the Endangered Species Act in order to reduce the amount of water released from Lanier. The Georgia Chamber of Commerce added its weight to their plea Oct. 25.
Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist are trying to block the request.