Crazy Days Ahead | Georgia Trout Unlimited Legislative Update

February 22, 2014
 
Georgia Trout Unlimited (GA TU) works closely with the Georgia Wildlife Federation (GWF) and, as a member of the Georgia Water Coalition (GWC), GWC partner organizations in conserving, protecting and restoring Georgia’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. We bring you cold, clean fishable water.
 
Dates to watch: Yesterday, Friday, February 21st was Day 26. Monday, March 3rd is Crossover Day, Day 30. Crossover Day is the last day for legislation to pass the chamber in which it was introduced and transfer to the other chamber for consideration. Senate bills must pass the Senate, and House bills must pass the House.  Any bill that does not receive a vote in its initial chamber by Day 30 cannot move on in the legislative process and must be re-introduced the following year. There are ways to finagle around the rule, but it’s tricky. Thursday, March 20th is Day 40, the last day of the 2013-14 General Assembly. Any bills not passed are dead and will need to be reintroduced as new next January for the 2015-16 General Assembly.
 
Cold Water…
Watershed Planning
SB 299 requires that a watershed protection plan, for the protection of watersheds of streams and reservoirs which are to be used for public water supply, be submitted to and approved by GA EPD. The originally filed egregious elements of the bill were struck in a committee substitute bill that was further modified in floor amendment by the sponsor, Sen. Steve Gooch (R) – Dahlonega, before it was passed the Senate yesterday in a 46-7 vote. SB 299 now moves to the House where it will be assigned to the natural Resources Committee. GA TU and GA Wildlife Federation forced the committee substitute with a joint Camo Coalition Alert and negotiated the floor amendment compromise with Sen. Gooch. Read our latest blog – Thank You for Keeping the Muck Out of My Trout Streams
 
 Thank you to all TU members and friends that responded to the Camo Alert and requests for calls and emails to your Senator and Sen. Gooch. Your voice was heard. I watched the Senate floor debate online during which GA TU’s position was mentioned numerous times. You have influence, if you exercise it!
 
Georgia Reservoir Fund
HB 199 would expand funding by the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) include to water conservation programs in addition to reservoir construction. GA TU advocates for water conservation and expansion of existing reservoirs before costly, watershed altering new reservoirs. The bill has passed the House and awaits action by the Senate Natural Resources Committee. GA TU supports HB 199.
 
Clean Water…
Improving Georgia’s Response to Emergency Pollution Spills
HB 549 would require EPD to maintain an effective emergency response program and help the division keep the program staffed and funded. The bill requires appropriate and timely responses to emergencies that threaten the state’s waters and public health. GA EPD’s response capability was drastically reduced during recent budget cuts and only partially restored. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s slow response to a rash of illegal spills and fish kills in Georgia’s waterways has shown that the agency no longer has the capacity to adequately respond to these emergencies. HB 549 has been modified and recommitted to the Environmental Quality Subcommittee. HB 549 needs to thread a tight schedule, passing both the Environmental Quality Subcommittee and House Natural Resources Committee, before passing the full House on March 3rd, Crossover Day. Call House Natural Resources Chairwoman Lynn Smith 404-656-7149; lynn.smith@house.ga.gov and, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jon Burns 404-656-5099; jon.burns@house.ga.gov. Tell them to “Bring HB 549 | Emergency Response to a floor vote before Crossover Day”. GA TU supports HB 549.
 
Extending the Ban on Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR)
SB 306 will permanently extend the moratorium that bans the use of Aquifer Storage and Recovery in the Floridian aquifer in 11 coastal counties. The current moratorium will sunset in 2014. The practice of injecting chemically treated wastewater, surface water, or ground water down into pristine groundwater systems with the intent to withdrawal it later is known as “aquifer storage and recovery” or ASR. Pumping chemically treated water underground threatens all Georgia aquifers and could lead to degraded water quality in our streams with increased levels of arsenic that exceed drinking water quality standards and introduction of bacteria, pathogens and disinfection byproducts into Georgia’s aquifers. SB 306 is assigned to Senate Natural Resources. GA TU supports amending SB 306 to extend the moratorium statewide. It appears the bill will be limited to the Floridian aquifer.
 
Protecting Communities from Land Application of Sewage Sludge
HB 741 was introduced to revise the definition of sludge, establish new requirements to ensure public hearings are held in the communities where sewage sludge will be land-applied, and to ensure that EPD permits to land-apply sewage sludge adhere to local zoning ordinances. HB 741 passed the House by a vote of 161-1 and now awaits action by the Senate Natural Resources Committee. GA TU supports the passage of HB 741.
 
Fishable Water…
Trout License Plate
HB 730 and HB 180. GA TU is appalled by how HB 730 was handled by House Motor Vehicles Committee Chairman Tom Rice. Read our blog - Six Years Late and $10 Short – Kicking Trout Plates Down the Road.  A committee vote was refused on HB 730, which immediately lowered fees on wildlife license plates and send more money to GA DNR, and passed HB 180, which keeps the fees at current rates and sends more money to all specialty plate sponsors - but not until 2020! GA TU supports lower fees and more money for wildlife management now. HB 180 awaits action by House Rules.
 
Georgia Legacy
SB 210 sets a framework for land acquisition, easements, working forests, and long term stewardship by the appropriate state agency. The bill represents enhancements to the existing land conservation framework. Georgia Legacy has been passed in the Senate and awaits action by the House Natural Resources Committee. Call House Natural Resources Chairwoman Lynn Smith 404-656-7149; lynn.smith@house.ga.gov and ask her to “Bring SB 210 | Georgia Legacy to a vote”. GA TU supports SB 210.
 
Flint River Drought Protection Act
SB 213  provision threatens longstanding Georgia water rights law, private property rights, and clean water. The bill aims to revise the Flint River Drought Protection Act of 2000 and authorizes stream flow augmentation projects and prohibits downstream users from reasonable use of any water added by these projects. GA TU opposes passage of SB 213 in its current form which sets precedent to alter water rights of downstream property owners throughout Georgia. It passed the Senate last year, has been reported favorably by House Natural Resources and awaits action by House Rules to schedule a floor vote. The bill is struggling in House Rules. GA TU opposes SB 213.
 
Reporting Returns of Water Withdrawals
HB 864. Entities that have permits to withdraw water from the state’s surface and ground water are not required to report how much of that water they return to the source of their withdrawal. Requiring permit holders to report the amount of water they return to the source will allow state and local entities, as well as the public, to be more informed when water management decisions are made and safeguard stream flows.  The GA TU is supporting the passage of legislation that requires permit holders to report to EPD the amount of water they return to its source of withdrawal.
 
It’s all about the water. Cold, clean fishable water provides quality fishing but it goes well beyond recreation. It also provides for healthy communities and strong economies. Protecting, reconnecting, restoring and sustaining the coldwater fisheries that flow through our communities and lives leads to healthy communities and strong economies. Trout exist only in cold, clean fishable water. They are a proverbial “canary in the coal mine”, indicating how well our rivers and streams are being maintained.
 
Kevin F. McGrath
Advocacy Chairman, Georgia Council of Trout Unlimited
 
TU… We Make Your Fishing Better!
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