Statewide water plan on wish list
District planners push conservation elsewhere

ATLANTA - Water conservation should be a statewide commitment, not limited to the populous, fast-growing Atlanta area, a consultant to the metro region's water planning district said Thursday.

The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District's wish list for the upcoming session of the General Assembly includes legislation to both encourage and require the installation of low-flow plumbing fixtures across the state.

"Water saved in the district is big," David Word told members of the district's board and the Atlanta Regional Commission during a joint meeting of the two agencies. "But water saved in Columbus and other parts of the (Chattahoochee River) basin is equally good."

The northern third of Georgia, including metro Atlanta, has been the focus of the state's efforts during the past several months to combat a historic drought.

The region was hit with a total ban on outdoor water use in late September. About a month later, Gov. Sonny Perdue ordered water systems throughout the northern counties to reduce their water use by 10 percent.

But on Thursday, Word and others said the key to restoring the depleted federal reservoirs along the Chattahoochee is curbing the huge releases of water from Lake Lanier.

Georgia officials have blamed the lake's dangerously low level on a new operations plan adopted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers early last year that dramatically increased those releases to protect endangered species of sturgeon and mussels downstream in Florida.

"If we drain this reservoir, it will be the worst mismanagement of water resources since a certain hurricane," said Dan Sheer, founder and president of Hydrologics, a water resources management consulting firm with offices in three states, in a clear reference to Hurricane Katrina.

Bowing to pressure from Georgia officials, the Corps put in place a drought emergency plan last month that is keeping more water in Lake Lanier as well as two downstream reservoirs, West Point Lake and Lake Walter F. George.

Sheer said the emergency plan is helping. He said reducing the releases downstream into Florida should allow West Point and Walter F. George to refill by June.

Word said conservation by downstream users also would help alleviate the need to release water from the reservoirs.

On Thursday, he presented the 2008 legislative agenda adopted by the metro district earlier this month.

Besides supporting the adoption and funding of Georgia's first statewide water management plan, the district board endorsed legislation to provide tax incentives to encourage the installation of low-flow toilets, faucets and shower heads.

Going further, board members also supported mandating low-flow fixtures upon the sale of a single-family home - a proposal already floated in a bill pre-filed by Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates - and requiring individual water meters in all new multi-family developments.

The board also endorsed another bill pre-filed by Rep. Kevin Levitas, D-Atlanta, that would add water-efficient appliances to the existing state sales-tax holiday for energy-efficient products.