For now, water grants for cities are gone

9 09 2008

In a year when Georgia has been weathering a historic drought and state legislators touted their new emphasis on water planning, a new program to expand local water supplies has evaporated in the state budget crunch.

In March, the Legislature approved $40 million for grants to local governments that wanted to build new reservoirs or expand existing ones, drill new wells, or create new connections between water systems. Gov. Sonny Perdue has announced that he is eliminating that funding as part of across-the-board cutbacks to offset a shortfall between the state budget and incoming revenue.

Virtually every state program is feeling the pressure, but few of them had received more political attention and fanfare this year than the need for water planning and increased water supply. The grant program was being administered by the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority.

In Middle Georgia, the city of Thomaston had applied for a grant to replace an old pump station that would help fill the city’s new reservoir. Thomaston was one of the few cities in Middle Georgia that banned all outdoor watering for a while last year because of concerns that its water supply was dipping too low.

Thomaston has purchased the reservoir formerly used by the now-closed Thomaston Mills. The city is deepening the reservoir and building a higher dam that will enable it to hold more water, City Manager Pat Comiskey said. This would increase by 50 percent the amount of water available to the city with its existing Hannah’s Mill Reservoir, he said.

The $6.6 million project was funded mostly by the city, but Thomaston was seeking a grant of about $1.5 million from the state. Without the grant, the city will likely rely on an existing, old pump station to fill the new lake from a nearby stream, Comiskey said. This will probably take longer but can suffice as long as the pump holds up, he said.

“We in Thomaston planned for our own needs,” he said. “When the grant funding came up, we saw it as a great opportunity. … But we certainly understand the economic situation.”

Thomaston was one of 13 local governments that had applied for loans, and about 20 other applications were expected by the state when the grant program was suspended a few weeks ago, said GEFA spokesman Shane Hix.

Read on here.

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