As tomorrow–the end of this year's legislative session–approaches, environmentalists are fighting a state Senate bill they say would deny water to downstream users on the Flint River in West Georgia so the water can be rerouted to Florida and metro Atlanta, at a very high cost to Atlanta utility customers.
The Flint River is part of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin, which Georgia, Florida and Alabama have fought over for more than 20 years.
From the Georgia Water Coalition:
SB 213, a bill currently being considered by the Georgia House of Representatives, contains a poison pill that threatens rivers, property rights and taxpayers, says the Georgia Water Coalition, a coalition of 193 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses, and faith-based organizations that have been working to protect Georgia’s water since 2002. Collectively, these organizations represent more than 300,000 Georgians.
“This is no longer just a Flint River bill. This is a critical statewide water issue,” said Gordon Rogers, Executive Director and Riverkeeper for Flint Riverkeeper. “SB 213 would radically change water law in this state and undercut property rights for all Georgians.”
The bill authorizes so-called “stream flow augmentation” projects – including dangerous Aquifer Storage and Recovery or ASR projects - and prohibits downstream users from reasonable use of any water added by these projects.
The augmentation language would allow a hugely expensive, taxpayer-funded, multi-million dollar Aquifer Storage and Recovery flow augmentation project to continue to be funded in the lower Flint. The water added by this project will flow to Florida while Georgia farmers and other property owners are denied reasonable use of it. According to an application submitted to the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) that resulted in a $4.6 million grant for the project, the scheme could be used to add to Metro Atlanta’s water supply but at an extremely high cost that is projected to fall on Metro Atlanta utility ratepayers, who already pay the highest water bills in the state.
The augmentation provisions also allow the EPD director to deny water users that are downstream of an undefined “augmentation” project the use of any of the “augmented” water flowing past their property, without prior opportunity to be heard. This provision allows the State to control (or allows a private party to control) a portion of stream flow and prohibit the reasonable use of it, which is akin to prior appropriation of water – a short step from western-type water regulation. State ownership of water is different from the state’s current regulation by permit.
Property owners in Georgia have a “bundle” of rights that make up their property rights. An essential property right in that bundle is the right to reasonable use of water on or under your property. Allowing the appropriation and state control of water, and not allowing downstream property owners the right to reasonable use of it, radically diminishes that property right.