Chattahoochee RiverWarden

Using science, education and advocacy to protect the middle Chattahoochee and its tributaries

Water plan has all the signs of a Trojan Horse

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts — or in this case, of “environmental” legislation the dubious benefits of which look less environmental than political and financial.

A bill has resurfaced in the Georgia General Assembly that didn’t make the cut last year, and for good reason. (Whether the reason it actually failed is the same as the reason it deserved to fail is a separate question.)

The bill purports to be a wildlife protection measure that would keep low water levels from endangering the creatures that live in and near the river. The specific river in this case is the Flint, the Chattahoochee’s sister stream that begins below Atlanta and merges with the Hooch just above the Florida panhandle. The proposed solution — which, to be sure, is being used already — is a variation on interbasin transfer, the pumping of water from one river basin to another, or in this case from underground aquifers into low-flow streams. Georgia Environmental Protection Director Judson Turner said the bill would give his department more authority to curtail water use downstream.

(So it’s downstream use that now represents the major challenge to the health of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system?)

Under the aquifer storage and transfer system, the state supposedly could pump more water into the Flint during droughts. Meanwhile (you already know where this is headed), metro Atlanta could withdraw more from the Chattahoochee. Florida would be pacified (though there’s little obvious benefit for Alabama), and Atlanta could consume more without trouble from the Sunshine State.

Area environmental interests aren’t buying it. They suspect this legislation is about ending the flap with Florida for the benefit of Atlanta (perish the thought). Flint Riverkeeper Gordon Rogers, whose river is the ostensible beneficiary of this bill, is if anything even more skeptical: He said the legislation arbitrarily and unfairly designates winners and losers in water access: “The winners in this case are folks that are embedded in the bureaucracy who are in league with insiders for investment projects.”

Rogers probably had in mind some earlier lobbying by an ex-director of the Department of Natural Resources — which happens to be EPD’s parent agency — to get state funding for an aquifer storage and river resupply study. That one didn’t take, but obviously the same question is still politically alive, even if the players are different.

This supposed wildlife protection bill has too many “oh, by the way” possibilities for comfort, especially the comfort of those of us along the middle and lower Chattahoochee.

Editorial from the February 10, 2014 Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

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