Last week, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed SB 122, which creates a new authority for private sector investors and water service companies to participate in water supply projects. Codified in new Georgia Code §§ 36-91-100 et seq., SB 122 does not overlap with existing statutes, but is a separate, independent authority that may prove useful at helping Georgia meet its future water supply needs, especially in light of the State Water Plan and ongoing restrictions on the use of Lake Lanier by metropolitan Atlanta.
On February 10, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published new maps showing drought conditions across the southeastern US. States that are experiencing particular drought include Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Georgia and Florida. In all of these states except Arkansas, drought is expected to persist or worsen over the spring of 2011 and possibly beyond.Combined with the drought and possible effects of climate change are demographic and regulatory challenges facing water supplies, including population growth in the Texaplex cities (Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio) and litigation in federal court that is limiting access by metropolitan Atlanta to Lake Lanier.
These challenges collectively mean that the southeastern states, which only recently emerged from a multi-year drought, will need to continue developing their physical, institutional and legal infrastructure for water supplies. There is likely to be appropriate emphasis on water use efficiency, recycling, desalination, conjunctive use and interbasin transfers. Texas, Georgia and Florida are likely to be the most active. Texas has the clearest path, while both Georgia and Florida are tied up in interstate stream litigation with Alabama. Water resource managers and strategic advisors certainly are living in interesting times.
On January 26, 2011, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) adopted new rules governing surface water withdrawal permits that involve interbasin transfers. The rules are the latest and perhaps, for the moment, final step in the development of state water policy regarding interbasin transfers. The new rules will be effective in February 2011 and will be found in the Rules and Regulations of the State of Georgia, Rule 391-3-6-.07.
Coinciding with population growth and several years of drought in the southeastern United States, the states of Alabama, Florida and Georgia have been litigating their respective rights in the Apalachicola, Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers in U.S. District Court in the case of In re Tri-State Water Rights Litigation. On 17 July 2009, Judge Magnuson issued a Memorandum and Order ruling that water supply is not an authorized purpose for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operation of Lake Lanier in northeastern Georgia, despite the fact that the reservoir is the largest source of water for metro Atlanta. The ruling has created significant uncertainty for the future of Atlanta regional water supplies and resulted in a rush of manpower (if not any water yet) to put out the ensuing legal and political fire.