Drought evaporates in Legislature

11 02 2009

 

AP

A year ago, legislators couldn’t wait to show the public they were tackling Georgia’s epic drought. One of their first votes was to embrace a statewide water plan. And powerful lawmakers soon backed a quixotic bid to claim water from the Tennessee River. The drought still grips parts of north Georgia, and Lake Lanier — Atlanta’s main water supply — is still around 14 feet under normal level. But the environmental groups fear debate over drought has all but evaporated in the Georgia Legislature. “Water’s definitely not as high profile as it was last year,” said Jill Johnson of Georgia Conservation Voters, an environmental lobby. “But the drought hasn’t gone away, and Georgians are still concerned about their water supply.” It’s not for lack of trying. At least a half dozen proposals have been introduced by lawmakers from both parties that would spur conservation and crack down on pollution. But chamber leaders have not publicly made any of them a priority. Instead, they have said they will deliberate each proposal on an individual basis. And Carol Couch, the state’s top environmental official, said her office is focused on a statewide water management plan to help set Georgia’s water policy for decades to come. “While drought is not making news like it was a year ago, drought management remains an issue and we need to manage water use for the greatest conservation savings,” said Couch, the director of the state Environmental Protection Division. Meanwhile, there’s a growing number of lower-profile measures percolating in the Legislature. State Rep. Richard Smith proposed new rules that would make it more difficult for local governments to add septic systems, which don’t return water into the sewage system.

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