Lawmakers approve ‘culture of conservation’ water bill
By Jim Tharpe and Nancy Badertscher
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
3:53 p.m. Wednesday, March 10, 2010
A bill that state lawmakers say will create a “culture of conservation” and potentially help douse Georgia’s water war with Florida and Alabama is all but a done deal.
The state Senate passed its final version of the bill 52-0 on Wednesday, and the House quickly followed with a 166-5 vote on an identical version of the proposal. One chamber’s bill must now clear the other chamber before the legislation heads to Gov. Sonny Perdue for his signature.
That procedural requirement, however, is just a technicality; leaders in both chambers were already applauding final action on the 15-page bill. The bill, among other things, would curtail outdoor watering and require builders and apartment building owners to more efficiently manage water.
Perdue said he will sign the bill as soon as it lands on his desk.
“Both the House and Senate took major steps today towards our goal of creating a true culture of conservation in Georgia,” Perdue said. “This legislation promotes water conservation in Georgia and shows our neighbors that we are serious about being good stewards of our natural resources.”
The bill would allow outdoor watering only between the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 a.m. Farmers would be exempt, as would people who irrigate their own food gardens, private well owners, nurseries, golf courses and athletic fields. The legislation also requires builders to use more efficient water fixtures, such as low-flow toilets, in newly constructed buildings.
“This is something we did for the people of Georgia,” said state Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan), chairman of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
State Sen. Ross Tolleson (R-Perry) said the bill sends a strong message to Alabama and Florida in their ongoing battle over water resources with Georgia.
“It says Georgia is doing the things we should to be a better steward of our natural resources,” Tolleson said.
Action on the bill comes at a pivotal time in the three-state water war.
Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson ruled last summer that Georgia has little legal right to Lake Lanier, the main drinking source for metro Atlanta. Georgia, Alabama and Florida have been embroiled in a two-decade-long spat over the sharing of the Chattahoochee River, which feeds Lanier.
Magnuson has given the states until mid-2012 — when the legislation would kick into gear — to resolve their dispute. Failing that, the judge could restrict Georgia’s access to Lanier, a federal reservoir.
Perdue is negotiating a water-sharing agreement with the governors of Alabama and Florida. He has appealed Magnuson’s ruling on usage of Lake Lanier. A decision isn’t expected until next year.
Smith called the water legislation “a shotgun wedding bill.”
“The shotgun was held in Judge Magnuson’s hand,” Smith said. “Everybody is a little bit locked and loaded, so it stays as it is.