OUR VIEW: Bill plugs leaks in state's aging water utilities

Those paying attention to this year's session of the General Assembly are familiar with the acronym WET — Water, Education, Transportation. Note that water leads the list of the big issues on Georgians' minds.

State Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, has an idea that addresses the water dilemma.

We're told that as much as 18 percent of the water withdrawn for public use is lost through leaks and inefficiencies within the state's utility infrastructures.

Shafer's Senate Bill 311, the Water Conservation and Savings Act, provides a way to repair those leaky systems without creating another burden on the taxpayer.

The bill directs the Environmental Protection Division to compile data showing the water loss by public utilities and then offers an incentive for those utilities to make repairs.

Shafer says the plan is simple and a win-win for all public utilities that choose to participate.

In touting the bill he makes the following points:

Local governments with leaky pipes have little incentive to correct the problem because they have water withdrawal permits for more water than they need — enough so they can waste 18 percent of the water and still meet the needs of their customers.

Despite this waste, or perhaps because of it, local governments for growing areas have been unable to obtain approval for new water withdrawal permits.

The bill proposes a new regulatory system that would allow a local government to pay for repairing the leaky infrastructure of another local government in return for the water withdrawal rights for the amount of water saved. In other words, one water utility could pay for another's repair and keep the water it "creates."

The bill has been endorsed by the Georgia Conservancy and Georgia Conservation Voters and has been assigned to the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

"We must be better stewards of our water," he said. "In this tough budgetary climate, this bill would give us a way to fix leaky pipes without raising taxes or putting unfunded mandates on local governments."

SB 311 is a creative approach to a complex problem. It won't solve all of Georgia's water problems, but it helps by making us more efficient and better stewards of the environment. That alone makes it the right thing to do.

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