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State House OK's water conservation bill

ATLANTA -- Sweeping water conservation legislation is on its way to Gov. Sonny Perdue.

The House gave the Georgia Water Stewardship Act final approval with a 153-8 vote on Thursday. The measure is expected to give Georgia with a tool in water negotiations with neighboring Alabama and Florida by showing that sprawling metro Atlanta is working to control its thirst.

Perdue helped author the bill and he's expected to sign it into law in the coming days.

The bill puts in place a wide-ranging series of conservation measures.

It requires high efficiency toilets, shower heads, and faucets in new construction and limits most outdoor water between the hours of 4 p.m. and 10 a.m., which is expected to save millions of gallons of water lost through evaporation.

A federal judge ruled last July that the sprawling metro Atlanta area had little legal right to the drinking water from Lake Lanier. The ruling gave Georgia, Alabama and Florida -- the states that have long feuded over the massive federal reservoir -- until 2012 to reach an agreement. If they don't, the city's access to its main water source could be reduced to the level it was at in the 1970s.

Perdue has been locked in secret negotiations with Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and Florida Gov. Charlie Crist.

Also on Thursday, several North Georgia lawmakers introduced a bill that would require a permit for interbasin water transfers, the costly practice of shifting water from one river basin to another. Such interbasin water transfers have been criticized by environmentalists worried over the potential damage to ecosystems and rural Georgia residents concerned about Atlanta's interference with their water supply.

"Interbasin transfers that are used to supplement systems that haven't taken care of the water resources within their own basins are not in the best interest of any part of Georgia," state Rep. Tom McCall, the bill's sponsor said.

Under the bill, those seeking interbasin transfers of more than 100,000 gallons of water a day must request a permit from the Department of Natural Resources. In order to obtain a permit, water users must implement water conservation practices and demonstrate that there are no cost-effective alternatives available other than an interbasin transfer.