Friday, February 13, 2009

Georgia Water Coalition: Regional Water Councils Should Heed Georgians’ Call to Protect Clean Water

Members of 174 partner-strong Georgia Water Coalition say that the Regional Water Council appointments announced Wednesday are unbalanced. Only six of the over 300 appointments are representatives of the scores of conservation groups dedicated to protecting and restoring the state’s water resources.

One of the six is Satilla Riverkeeper, Gordon Rogers, of Waynesboro. “It is an honor to be appointed by statewide officials to our regional planning council, and I am looking forward to serving alongside my fellow Georgian’s of the Suwannee and Satilla River watersheds. I appreciate the support of our local legislators, particularly Mark Williams in this effort” said Rogers. “It is disappointing however, to see so few voices for the rivers among other councils, particularly for those rivers downstream of Metro North Georgia” he added.

“Even though only a few Georgia Water Coalition member groups are represented on these councils, the Georgia Water Coalition will continue to be an active voice on behalf of Georgia communities and their water resources in regional water planning and insisting on full public participation in the planning” said Sally Bethea, the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

Last week the Georgia Water Coalition released poll results showing that ensuring enough clean water continues to top Georgians’ environmental concerns, according to a recent survey conducted by Georgia consulting firm The Schapiro Group, Inc. According to the poll, 87 percent of Georgia voters were concerned about water shortages and 75 percent were concerned about water quality. The Georgia Water Coalition is urging the new regional council appointees to heed the concerns of Georgians.

“This poll tells us that Georgians want to protect our rivers and streams and to do what’s needed to provide plentiful, clean water for current and future generations,” said April Ingle, Executive Director of the Georgia River Network “we will continue to be an insistent voice for Georgians, bringing their concerns to these councils.”

The poll showed support for specific water-related measures likely to be deliberated by the councils, including well water protection, water conservation measures, and restrictions on water transfers from one river basin to another.

Of those surveyed, 73 percent supported extending a ban on aquifer storage and recovery—a measure that is currently in place to protect well water in South Georgia. Aquifer storage and recovery is a practice of injecting chemically treated water in our underground water supply with the intent to later use it.

Georgia legislators have twice placed a moratorium on this practice until pressing concerns were alleviated regarding threats to water quality, cost-effectiveness and water recovery capacity, but the current moratorium is set to expire at the end of this year.

On the issue of water transfers, 59 percent of those polled overall -- including 55 percent within metro Atlanta – said they opposed moving water from one river basin to another, also referred to as interbasin transfers, which has been strongly opposed by communities downstream from Metro Atlanta. Interbasin transfers are a practice of transferring water from one river basin to another river basin, for use, and the treated waste water is discharged in the receiving basin instead of being returned to the basin it originated from, resulting in a net loss of water in the originating basin.

Language to statutorily require the Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director to consider extensive analysis before allowing new interbasin transfers was removed from a reservoir bill during the final hours of the 2008 legislative session.

“The results of this poll show that Georgia voters are ready for action on these issues,” said Jennette Gayer with Environment Georgia. “The appropriate response to this data on the part of state leaders would be to act now to extend the ban on injecting water into underground aquifers, develop simple outdoor water restrictions that actually save water and require further analysis before permitting any interbasin transfers.”

The poll also showed that these issues found wide support among Republicans, Democrats and Independents. For instance, more than 65 percent of voters, regardless of political affiliation, support extending the ban on aquifer storage and recovery. More than 80 percent support easier to understand outdoor watering restrictions.

“The poll shows that protecting our waterways is not a red or blue issue,” said Jill Johnson with Georgia Conservation Voters. “Voters want to see more solutions from state leaders when it comes to ensuring a clean water supply for their families.”

Among the additional findings, voters exhibited high levels of concern about various conservation issues:

· Water shortage: 87% concerned

· Water quality: 75% concerned

· Loss of natural areas due to development: 74% concerned

· Air quality: 72% concerned

· Climate change: 63% concerned

Georgians demonstrated a high level of support for specific water management solutions:

· Developing new, easy-to-understand statewide watering restrictions: 82% support

· Extending the ban on the practice of aquifer storage and recovery: 73% support

· Banning further interbasin transfers of water: 59% support

· Excluding water programs from budget cuts: 52% support

Concerns about the following water issues are not specific to any one political party:

· 88% of Republicans, 91% of Democrats, and 83% of Independents place a high priority on the legislature ensuring our state’s water supply is clean enough for drinking and recreation.

· 80% of Republicans, 87% of Democrats and 80% of Independents support developing new, easy-to-understand statewide watering restrictions.

· 76% of Republicans, 80% of Democrats and 66% of Independents place a high priority on the legislature promoting efficient water use among business and residential users.

· 74% of Republicans, 78% of Democrats and 68% of Independents support extending the ban on aquifer storage and recovery.

The poll of 600 Georgians was conducted via live telephone survey September 17-23, 2008. The margin of sampling error is ±4.0%.

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