Georgia Trout Unlimited Legislative Update
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.
The Georgia General Assembly is forty percent of the way through this year’s forty day session.
SB 299 changes watershed planning requirements from requiring that buffers, land development densities and land use activities be taken into account to being optional considerations by watershed planners. The more egregious elements of the bill were struck in a committee substitute bill that was passed in Senate Natural Resources on Tuesday. The substitute bill removed a provision that submitted watershed protection plans shall be approved by EPD. GA TU opposes SB 299 in its current form but is working with the sponsor to amend the language to make consideration of buffers, use and density mandatory and for watershed protection plans to be approved by EPD.
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.
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. Email the House Natural Resources Committee to take action on and pass 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. GA TU supports amending SB 306 to extend the moratorium statewide.
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. The GA TU supports the passage of HB 741.
Trout License Plate
HB 730 has been introduced changing plate fees and funds directed to GA DNR Wildlife Resources for trout, bobwhite quail and non-game wildlife management and habitat improvement. The $35 license plate manufacturing fee would be waived and the tag fee reduced from $35 to $25. $20 of the fee would be directed to GA DNR WRD. Currently only $10 is directed to GA DNR WRD. GA TU supports HB 730. Call or email House Motor Vehicles Chairman Tom Rice to pass HB730.
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. 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.
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