Thursday, January 25, 2007

Written 1/25/2007

Water Council Meeting Contrasted with County Meeting on Reservoirs

The public hearing last night before the Georgia Water Council on the University of Georgia campus contrasted in a number of ways with the public meeting a week earlier in Oconee County on proposed water reservoir options.

Georgia is running out of water and will not be able to provide enough water to meet the needs of state’s population in the next 25 years, Dr. Carol Couch, director of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, said last night. As a result, preservation and conservation are essential.

A week earlier, Oconee County officials and their consultants said the County, based on high-end projections of population growth, needs a lot more water to feed planned and hoped for development in the County. As a result, the County needs to act quickly before others get the water first.

The Water Council meeting at the Georgia Center focused on the limited supply of water and what the state needs to do to protect it. The Oconee County meeting at the courthouse in Watkinsville focused on the limits state and federal regulations place on where the County can find water to put into its reservoir.

The Water Council meeting was intended to give residents a chance to comment on a Statewide Comprehensive Water Plan.

The Oconee County meeting on January 17th was to give citizens a chance to ask questions about two large reservoir projects that will draw water from the Oconee watershed. The County did not discuss plans to conserve that water, discourage its use, or guarantee that an adequate supply is put back into the rivers for downstream use.

The Georgia Water Council meeting was to obtain comments on the fourth objectives of the statewide master plan: protecting water quality. The other three are minimizing water withdrawal through conservation, reuse and efficiency, maximizing return of water to basins from which it was drawn, and meeting water demands.

One of the proposal of particular importance to those of us concerned about protection of the streams of the County is a call for increased resources for the EPD for stream monitoring.

April Ingle, executive director of the Georgia River Network, who has worked with us in our efforts to protect Barber Creek, spoke in favor in this proposal. I followed her comments and indicated how important monitoring is for Barber Creek.

I told the Council–and reminded Dr. Couch–that we have asked the EPD to modify the permit it has drafted for Oconee County’s proposed expansion of the Rocky Branch sewage plant. That permit would allow the County to discharge 1 million gallons per of plant effluent into Barber Creek.

At the December 12 hearing on the permit and subsequently, we submitted a petition signed by at least 45 residents asking the EPD to guarantee it will conduct independent sampling of Barber Creek on an unannounced basis at least once every three months during each year if it grants the permit.

I also reminded Dr. Couch that we asked that the permit be changed to allow Oconee County to discharge into Barber Creek only when the creek is at normal stage and to require the County to treat the water to drinking level quality.

The EPD should announce its decision on the draft permit at any time.

About 110 people attended the meeting last night at the Georgia Center. Many of them were government officials. Included were Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis and Chris Thomas, assistant Oconee County Utility Department director.
April and I were among the 13 who spoke.

The first was Les Reed of Save Lake Oconee’s Waters. He would not have been happy had he attended the meeting on the 17th in Oconee County.

Reed said Lake Oconee and the Oconee River already are getting an inadequate supply of water and asked that no more water be taken from the River.

Both of the reservoirs Oconee County is considering building would do just that. One would draw water from the Oconee directly; the other would take water from the Apalachee, which flows into the Oconee.