Apologies to Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Ancient Mariner and Albatrosses everywhere.
Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to use. That’s how some Georgians may feel if Gov. Deal has his way in the General Assembly with SB 213, the cleverly named Flint River Drought Protection Act. It allows the State and select private partners to store water in underground aquifers to be pumped and augmented back into creeks and the river at a later time for downstream use. It sounds simple and straightforward. Well [pun intended], the Albatross is in the details.
The bill introduces an entirely new form of water ownership into Georgia (State, versus common, ownership) and opens the door to western-US-style water ownership (private control). An upstream user could hold water to be sold or dedicated for downstream users’ purposes. Currently, Georgians have a right to reasonable use of water flowing through and lying under their property. With SB 213, they could be denied use of that water because an upstream property owner has sold it or promised it to someone downstream. Will the Governor shoot the Albatross and bring bad luck to riverfront property owners, farmers and municipalities?
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist, hydrologist or fisheries biologist to understand that when you alter natural streamflows, unnatural things can happen. Depending on when water is removed and augmented back to the stream, unnaturally high stream temperatures and unnaturally low flows can be created that are capable of irreparable harm to a fishery. Trout Unlimited has purchased water rights in western states to restore and enhance streamflows to ensure healthy fisheries. Will the General Assembly shoot the Albatross and bring bad luck to natural streamflows?
Injecting water, to be used later, for storage underground, Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR), has long been a contentious issue in Georgia. ASR is a risky proposition. If everything goes perfectly, precious groundwater supplies do not become contaminated – if. Contamination of aquifers and wells have occurred in ASR projects. If everything goes perfectly, wells do not go dry when aquifers are pumped during droughts once downstream users demand their ‘augmented’ water – if. ASR along the Flint River would allow Metro Atlanta to draw more water out of the Chattahoochee River to be replenished in the Flint for Alabama and Florida’s use downstream. It is argued that if the State controls the water it will make decisions in the best interest of all parties – if. Will the General Assembly shoot the Albatross and bring bad luck to our state for the sake of Metro Atlanta?
Augmentation would allow Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) Director to decide how stored water is allocated. The Director is authorized in the bill to make two lists: winners and losers. The Director would be able to deny property owners reasonable use of ‘augmented’ water, pumped from ASR projects that is flowing through and lying under their property for the benefit of a city, business owner or another state far, far away. This radically diminishes a property owners rights. There are currently active, limited augmentation projects to protect endangered species. SB 213 would inject ASR and augmentation on a large scale into Georgia. Will Georgia’s EPD Director shoot the Albatross and bring bad luck to Georgians that dwell and work along our waterways?
If the objective is to solve the Flint River’s streamflow problems, HB 1085 – The Farmers Private Property Act, should be advanced. It contains the effective elements of SB 213 without the augmentation language. However, HB 1085 has been squashed by Gov. Deal. Will SB 213 be an Albatross around Georgia’s neck and bring the bad luck of increased ASR and augmentation to Georgia?
While the Flint River is a warm water stream, Georgia Trout Unlimited’s mission based opposition to SB 213 is the precedent it sets by modifying riparian rights to commoditize and unitize streamflow for downstream use. ASR could exacerbate, not solve low streamflows. The Flint River is currently named as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers. This could happen on a trout stream near you.
Kevin F. McGrath
Advocacy Chairman, Georgia Trout Unlimited
Cold Clean Fishable Water 12-08-2013.pdf
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