The 2013 legislative session that commenced in mid-January marks the 12th year that Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has helped lead the work of the Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) at the Georgia General Assembly. CRK is one of a dozen groups that make up a leadership team that annually guides the coalition’s work program and develops a legislative agenda to address pressing statewide water issues.
With 187 member organizations, the GWC now represents about 300,000
Georgians. See www.gawater.org.
In recent years, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has inadequately responded to serious environmental emergencies, specifically illegal discharges of toxic substances into waterways that threatened public health and resulted in massive fish kills. At the root of the agency’s failure to properly respond is the absence of a statutory obligation (mandate) to respond to spills that threaten public health, safety, drinking water sources, and wildlife – in addition to a lack of funding for personnel and training.
The GWC is working proactively to secure a statutory mandate for specific actions that must be taken by EPD and others in the event of another emergency.
The renewal of the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund (HWTF), which will sunset this coming June, is a second GWC priority. The HWTF provides money to help clean up more than 500 hazardous waste sites in Georgia which threaten ground and surface waters around the state. About $16 million is collected annually through fees from the transfer of solid waste and the handling of hazardous waste, but only 40 percent of the collected funds go to their intended purposes.
In addition to renewing the fund, the GWC wants to ensure that all funds are appropriated for their intended purpose, and not raided by the legislature. The Flint River, part of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin, is suffering from over-allocation and extremely low flows. The existing Flint River Drought Protection Act (FRDPA) is not effective and is expected to be reconsidered in the current legislative session. The GWC supports restructuring the FRDPA to secure a comprehensive and protective low-flow policy.
As always, we are working to make sure there are no rollbacks in existing environmental laws and regulations during the session. Stream buffer regulation, a perennial target for weakening proposals, is likely to be an issue again this year. CRK and our GWC partners will work to avoid any weakening of this and other protective measures.
INTERBASIN TRANSFER REGULATION
Georgia's 2011 legislative session began on January 11. This year, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is working, along with members of the Georgia Water Coalition, to secure meaningful regulation of interbasin transfers (IBTs) through a legislative act.
LEARN MORE ABOUT IBTS
WHAT YOU CAN DO
FIND YOUR LEGISLATORS AT "MY ELECTED OFFICIALS”
LEARN MORE ABOUT CRK’S LEGISLATIVE WORK
WHAT IS AN INTERBASIN TRANSFER (IBT)?
An IBT occurs when water is withdrawn from one river basin and used, consumed, or discharged into another basin. In metro Atlanta, these transfers take place in almost every county, but they incur real economic and environmental costs — and currently, there are not sufficient safeguards in place to protect our rivers and downstream communities.
WHAT REGULATIONS ARE NEEDED?
Amid growing support throughout the state for meaningful IBT regulation, in January Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) adopted a rule that says the state EPD, which has to approve any IBT, “should” consider 22 scientifically-based criteria before issuing a new surface-water withdrawal permit. While these are good criteria, the DNR rule falls short of requiring that these criteria be considered for all IBT permits. This rule was an attempt by those who oppose IBT regulation to prevent such regulation from being enacted by the General Assembly.
In order to protect the state’s waterways and the interests of ALL Georgians, CRK and the Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) are working with members of the General Assembly to enact a law that would require the comprehensive regulation of interbasin transfers with language that states, EPD “shall” review and consider the 22 criteria when evaluating an application or permit renewal for water withdrawal that would allow an IBT of more than 1 million gallons of water per day. Unlike the DNR rule, meaningful regulation will include review of new applications and modifications to existing permits.
To learn more about why Georgia needs meaningful IBT regulation, click here to read ‘Regulate Water Transfers Carefully’ (January 3, 2011), an Atlanta Journal-Constitution opinion-editorial by CRK Executive Director and Riverkeeper, Sally Bethea.
PUBLIC COMMENTS NOT HEARD BY DNR
Worth mentioning, when EPD briefed the DNR Board about the IBT rule change and comments received during the public review process, the agency failed to inform the Board that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM), the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce, the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and several business interests in the Columbus area all submitted individual letters urging a stronger rule.
In fact, a total of 33 individual comment letters and 900+ e-mails from Georgia citizens all urged DNR to strengthen the proposed rule. The letter from ADEM asserts that passing meaningful IBT regulations will assist Georgia in negotiations with Alabama in the Tri-State Water War - a very important assertion that should have been shared with, and considered by, the DNR Board.
THE PATH TO IBT REGULATION
In response to the DNR Board’s IBT rulemaking, state legislators are now working to pass legislation that would require the consideration of the 22 scientifically-based criteria before issuing a surface water withdrawal permit. Legislators have introduced four bills aimed at strengthening the IBT rule passed by the DNR Board. Three of the four bills were assigned to the House Natural Resources Committee, where Chairwoman Lynn Smith so far has refused to allow a hearing and a vote on these bills. The third bill, assigned to the Senate Natural Resources Committee, is also stuck because Chairman Ross Tolleson is refusing to hear the bill in committee or allow a vote on the bill. These bills are HB 111, HB 134, HB 368, and SB 128. Your help is needed to move these bills out of committee and onto the House and Senate floors for an up or down vote.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
CRK’S LEGISLATIVE WORK
CRK actively works to educate elected officials and policy makers at all levels about matters related to the protection and restoration of the Chattahoochee River Basin. Legislation can protect or enhance our natural resources or can accelerate their deterioration. CRK conduct slobbying activities, defined as promoting or opposing the passage of legislation, which includes statutory law, local legislation (limited to particular jurisdictions), and appropriations acts. Since 1994, CRK has helped promote important river protection legislation at the state level and worked to defeat anti-environmental bills.
Contrary to popular belief, nonprofit groups can lobby. The IRS has set limits on how much lobbying a 501(c)(3) organization can undertake and on the amount of money that can be spent on direct and grassroots lobbying. Therefore, CRK is very careful not to exceed these limits in our lobbying activities, most of which take place at the State Capitol.
Find out the current status of water-related legislation at the Georgia Water Coalition website or the Georgia Conservation Voters website. If you have a specific question about legislation or CRK’s position on a bill, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An informed and active electorate makes a difference!