Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Clarifying water

I've been working to get some clarification on the proposal to provide some oversight to how much water can be drawn from wells or from rivers or streams that are adjacent to one's property. The original article generated substantial debate, and the Athens Banner-Herald editorial board argued against such restrictions.

My friend Don Nelson concurred, which resulted in me disagreeing with the logic the two columns employed.

The original article began with the following assertations ...

As North Georgia's drought grows more severe, the Athens-Clarke Commission wants to subject well owners to the same outdoor watering rules as municipal water customers.

The commission asked state legislators this week to impose watering restrictions on well-users and people who draw water directly from rivers and creeks on their property during times of drought.

As a note of clarity, restrictions do exist on well-users in that they can 'only' draw 100,000 gallons per day without a permit. After exchanging emails with Athens-Clarke County Commissioners Kathy Hoard and Kelly Girtz, as well as Mayor Heidi Davison, I've tried to gain a better understanding of what the actual proposal was.

According to those three individuals, the proposal's intent is to get the state more active in addressing these issues during times of extreme drought (Level Four was the instance Hoard specifically cited) because, as I've argued here, the interconnectedness of the aquifiers with other bodies of water is something current policy does not take into account. And a continued ignoral of that fact, particularly during the drought we are still mired in, can have long-term implications for our water supplies across the state.

Hoard said the proposal had nothing to do with developing a specific policy that was catered to a particular community, but rather a suggestion that the state delegation support legislation that would give local governments the right - not the requirement - to impose necessary and as-needed restrictions on well-users or those who draw water from streams, rivers, etc.

One logical assumption could be that Athens-Clarke County could require those users to adhere to existing restrictions on municipal water users (i.e. limits on when one waters), and both Hoard and Davison noted that in discussions with me. That may be one way the commission opts to go, but, based on the language of the proposal, they could also determine another avenue on how to balance the needs and demands of private users with whatever pressing circumstances the community faces.

The point of the legislation, then, was to put such decisions in the hands of local officials (something which, apparently, is incredibly difficult for the folks in Atlanta to process).

Personally, I don't know what the best specific measure of policy would be (I think there are merits to making well users adhere to existing restrictions on municipal water users, but there's also an added personal cost that well-users take on that might be valuable to consider as well), but I do wholeheartedly support the notion of local governments having the right to address this issue.

I'd also encourage the state to drastically lower the amount of water than can be withdrawn per day as 100,000 gallons is absurd. Granted businesses would have higher needs, particularly in the landscaping and nursery industry, but individuals regularly use less than 1,000 gallons per day (my family of three, though I haven't checked in while, usually clocks in around 350 to 400 ... higher than my efforts last year during the peak of the drought, but also rather low for the water-sucking machine that is The Kid). It would seem to me that we can get some common-sense legislation that brings that into control, right?

I say that largely because, again, we currently have restrictions on drawing from wells or other water sources ... it's just that those restrictions are grossly disproportionate to regulations on municipal water users.


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