A step forward: Governor signs Water Stewardship Act

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

BUFORD -- On Tuesday on the shore of Lake Lanier, Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the Water Stewardship Act of 2010, which focuses on conserving, capturing and controlling Georgia's water.

"The Water Stewardship Act is the next step forward as we continue building a statewide culture of conservation," Perdue said. "This legislation helps secure our water supplies by preparing for future growth, protecting our water-sensitive industries and equipping us to navigate future droughts that are sure to come."

The act includes incentives for increasing water stewardship and new conservation requirements. Beginning in July 2012, the legislation requires efficient water fixtures in all new residential and commercial construction statewide as well as the installation of efficient cooling towers in new industrial construction.

"Today marks a significant milestone for our state as we become better stewards of our water and move forward with conservation measures that will safeguard our natural resources," Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle said.

Georgia Sen. Don Balfour, R-Snellville, said the Act is a great step toward addressing the state's looming water issues.

"We must continue to be vigilant about protecting our water and conserving our natural resources for many generations to come," Balfour said in a statement. "As residents of Gwinnett County, Georgia's water issues are always close to home, and we must continue to be a prime example of how to conserve and protect our water supply.

"The Water Stewardship Act will encourage every Georgian to do their part in allowing water independence throughout our state, and it will continue to encourage legislators to seek new and innovative ways to protect Georgia's water supply as we look to the future."

The new rules meant to reduce water use will be used as a bargaining chip to resolve a legal dispute with Alabama and Florida that threatens to choke off much of metropolitan Atlanta's water supply.

Still, Perdue said he could not guarantee that an agreement between the three states will be struck before he leaves office in early January. A deal is important because a federal judge ruled last year that Atlanta has little right to withdraw drinking water from Lake Lanier, its main water supply.

The judge said he would restrict Atlanta's withdrawals from the lake to levels last seen in the 1970s, when the city was far smaller, unless political leaders can cut a deal by July 2012. Many of the Water Stewardship Act's provisions take effect right at the judge's deadline for tightening the water flow.

''I wish I could tell you confidently we will have an agreement,'' Perdue told reporters. ''I can't do that right now.''

Perdue and other state leaders said they hoped the new conservation rules will send a message that Georgia is serious about conservation to neighboring states that have long complained Atlanta uses more than its fair share.

''I think they will be encouraged that we mean business in being good neighbors and sharing this resource,'' Perdue said.

The legislation is based on recommendations from the Governor's Water Contingency Task Force, a group of business, civic, government and environmental leaders that met last fall.

"Without question, ensuring that Georgia businesses and families will have access to clean, plentiful water is critical to our state's future," said Time Lowe of Lowe Engineers, the co-chair of the Water Task Force. "The passage of this legislation was a clear demonstration that our elected leaders understand the importance of water to our economic health and quality of life.

"Now that the bill has been signed into law, the responsibility will lie upon all Georgians to meet the established levels of stewardship and support the state in this important effort."

Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister said the legislation is a meaningful step toward combating Georgia's water challenges.

Bannister said Gwinnett County has been blazing the trail when it comes to water conservation efforts.

On May 5, the county began returning up to 40 million gallons per day of highly treated wastewater to its source in Lake Lanier through a reuse water pipeline. The county currently takes about 70 million gallons per day from the lake, on average, to produce drinking water at two filter plants.

"Let's all make a continued, conscientious effort not to waste this valuable resource," Bannister said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.