Water conservation efforts underway in the General Assembly are noble in claims but anemic in substance. The Georgia Water Stewardship Act of 2010 creates valuable first steps, but falls short of being legitimate because it favors the state’s major water users.
And it does nothing to prevent Atlanta from robbing the water resources of downstream and downstate communities to help prop up the metro region’s increasingly unmanageable and costly sprawl. We fully support a separate bill proposed to control inter–basin transfers, urgently needed in the absence of language addressing transfers in the Water Stewardship Act.
Note that the watering restriction exemptions offered by the Stewardship bill includes farmers, who as a group are one of the largest water users in the state. Under current proposals, enormous amounts of water lost to evaporation will continue to be caused by mega–farms using spay irrigation, with losses of hundreds of millions of gallons daily that will be permitted even during the hottest periods.
Likewise, Georgia’s other giant water grabbers, power–plants, are being treated as sacred cows in legislative conservation proposals, which leave them wholly unaffected. Despite power plants consuming hundreds of millions of gallons a day in evaporative cooling, EPD continues permitting them as if they’re unrelated to water management concerns.
Meanwhile, waterless and clean energy options like solar and wind power remain largely ignored – treated as eccentric and impractical, in defiance of abundant examples of their success elsewhere.
Doubling the size of Plant Vogtle with two new nuclear reactors will cause the additional loss of 40 million gallons a day from the Savannah River. The Savannah is already overstressed by water users and polluters in Georgia and South Carolina, as indicated by the recent finding that it’s the fourth most polluted river in the nation.
The unstated but disturbing outcome is that nearly all water to be conserved under the curiously incomplete Georgia approach will be squeezed from 20 percent (or fewer) of the water users, as measured in total water consumed. In other words, for undisclosed political reasons we are severely restricting Georgia’s water conservation potential by giving a free pass to the major water users.
This will result in building more costly and inefficient reservoirs, unnecessary exploitation and degradation of Georgia’s aquifers and rivers, and an ever greater burden on taxpayers who will have to pay for the unyielding demands of urban sprawl, agriculture, and the power industry. And all this will occur under the guise of a disingenuous claim to be moving toward state water ‘stewardship.’
Dare Georgians demand that the manipulated omissions in this half–hearted approach to a ‘culture of conservation’ be exposed through open, fact–based deliberations? If not, we can only hope that neighboring states and judicial authorities involved in the ‘water wars’ will force Georgia toward a legitimate water conservation program.
David Kyler is Executive Director for the Center for a Sustainable Coast in St. Simons Island.