The Top of the Ninth Inning – Two Days Left
Georgia Trout Unlimited Legislative Update – March 16, 2014
Two days remain in the 2014 session of the Georgia General Assembly – Tuesday and Thursday, March 18th and 20th. It will be a busy week. Expect a flurry of activity right up until midnight on Thursday.
This past week much improved SB 299 | Watershed Protection Planning and SB 213 | Flint River Drought Protection Act bills were passed. SR 896 | Georgia LeGAcy was passed forming a study committee to renew Georgia’s land conservation program.
How can you help this week? Call and ask your Senator to pass HB 549 | Pollution Emergency Response and HB 741 | Protecting Communities from Land Application of Sewage Sludge.
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 passed the Senate in a 46-7 vote. The House approved the amended bill 163-8. 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. Thanks and credit to everyone who responded to the Camo Coalition Alert or who called their Senator. Your voice was heard! Read our latest blog – Thank You for Keeping the Muck Out of My Trout Streams.
Georgia Reservoir Fund
HB 199 would expand funding by the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) to 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 died in Senate Natural Resources without committee action. GA TU supported 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. HB 549 unanimously passed the House and has been favorably recommended by the House Natural Resources Committee. It now awaits Senate Rules before a floor vote. GA TU supports HB 549.
Extending the Ban on Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR)
SB 306 would permanently extend the moratorium that bans the use of Aquifer Storage and Recovery in the Floridian aquifer in 11 coastal counties. The current moratorium sunsets in 2014. The practice of injecting chemically treated wastewater, surface water or ground water down into pristine underground 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 was not given a vote by Chairman Tolleson in the Senate Natural Resources Committee allowing the moratorium to expire but has been assigned to a summer study committee. GA TU supports a statewide moratorium on ASR.
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, was favorably recommended by the Senate Natural Resources Committee but has been tabled by House Rules. GA TU supports the passage of HB 741.
Trout License Plate
HB 730, HB 180 and HB 881. The path for wildlife tags has more twist and turns than a river. A committee vote on HB 730, which immediately lowered fees on wildlife license plates and send more money to GA DNR, was refused by House Motor Vehicles Committee Chairman Tom Rice. Instead and the committee approved HB 180, which keeps the fees at current rates and sends more money to all specialty plate sponsors - but not until 2020! Read our blog - Six Years Late and $10 Short – Kicking Trout Plates Down the Road. HB 180 died in House Rules and never received a floor vote. HB 730 sponsor Rep. Bubber Epps amended HB 881 in the Senate Public Safety Committee, with HB 730’s provisions for wildlife license plates. HB 881 had been passed by the House and provided for a Grady Hospital specialty plate. The amended HB 881 passed the Senate 51-3 and now awaits a reconciliation vote in the House. GA TU supports HB 881 which immediately waives the manufacturing fee, lowers fees for purchase and renewal from $35 to $25 and provides more money for wildlife management – from $10 to $19 the first year and $20 of renewals.
SB 210/SR 896. SB 210 sets a framework for land acquisition, easements, working forests, and long term stewardship by appropriate state agencies. The bill represents enhancements to the existing land conservation framework. SB 210 passed the Senate last year but lagged in the House Natural Resources Committee this year. SR 899 was introduced by Sen. Ross Tolleson, sponsor of SB 210, to form a joint study committee on Georgia LEGACY. SR 896 was passed by the Senate on Crossover day by a vote of 49-3 and, subsequently, 169-4 in the Senate. See GA TU’s blog, Georgia LEGACY: An Economic Case for Conservation. GA TU supports Georgia LEGACY.
Flint River Drought Protection Act
SB 213. The original provisions of SB 213 threatened longstanding Georgia water rights law, private property rights, and clean water. The bill aimed to revise the Flint River Drought Protection Act of 2000, authorize stream flow augmentation projects and prohibit downstream users from reasonable use of any water added by these projects. GA TU opposed passage of SB 213 in its original form which set the precedent of modifying riparian rights to commoditize and unitize streamflow for downstream use – Western U.S. style water regulation. It passed the Senate last year and was favorably reported by House Natural Resources this year. See GA TU’s blog - Water, Water, Every Where, But Not A Drop To Use. House Rules recommitted the SB 213 to House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs for further study where it was amended with window dressing changes that did not address the bills harmful provisions. It was amended on the House floor by limiting the augmentation projects to ground water, geographically to four tributaries of the Flint River and only to be implemented to address threatened riparian wildlife and passed in a 134-3 vote. The Senate accepted the House amendments in a 48-2 reconciliation vote. GA TU worked closely with the Flint Riverkeeper and GA Water Coalition partners to bring about the amendments. GA TU supported the bill as passed.
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 supported the passage of this legislation that requires permit holders to report to EPD the amount of water they return to its source of withdrawal. HB 549 died without being taken up by the House Natural Resources Committee.
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!
Cold Clean Fishable Water 12-08-2013.pdf
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.