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New Federal Water Legislation Benefits Both Georgia and Metro Atlanta

January 6, 2014  |  Boyd Austin, Mayor, Dallas, Georgia & Chair, Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District
Boyd Austin
With the anticipated passage of the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), Georgians owe a debt of gratitude to our Congressional delegation. Our Senators and Representatives worked across party lines to help ensure Georgia’s continued economic development, balanced with the protection of our natural resources. They paved the way for federal investment in the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project. Furthermore, they ensured that the bill did not include punitive language obstructing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ ability to use its scientific expertise to manage the waters in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin in ways that balance the needs of water users and the ecological health of the system. 

A massive bill, WRRDA establishes policies and priorities for the Army Corps of Engineers and authorizes federal water projects, including dams, levees and harbor and river expansions. With its approval of $652 million for the harbor deepening, which is projected to return $5.50 for every dollar invested, construction of the project can proceed. It has gained the required federal agency approvals, and the president prioritized it as one of the country’s most important infrastructure projects. 

Savannah is the fastest growing port on the east coast and the fourth busiest in the country, thanks to its efficient operation and unmatched rail and road access to the almost 50 percent of the U.S. population who lives in the Southeast. Our ports support some 350,000 jobs in Georgia, and generate $18.5 billion in income for Georgians annually. The harbor expansion will help to ensure that the Savannah port will remain the port of choice for exporters. It promises to help Georgia and the Southeast continue to attract and retain manufacturers that create jobs. 

The bill is also important for what it means for the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system, which supplies much of our metro region’s water. As the bill moved through the legislative process, proposed language would have required congressional approval before the Army Corps of Engineers could change how it operates the system. That proposed provision would have been devastating to Georgia. The economic benefit to the state from agriculture alone in the basin is some $15 billion. The entire economy of the basin is roughly $175 billion. However, thanks to the efforts of Georgia’s Congressmen and Senators, the damaging proposal was eliminated from the final versions of the bill that went to conference committee. 

As good stewards of water resources, we appreciate the delegation’s vigilance. In metro Atlanta, we have established some of the most aggressive water conservation measures in the country. These include tiered conservation pricing (the more you use, the more you pay) and toilet rebate programs. And local utilities have adopted sophisticated software and technologies to find and fix leaks in the water system. 

The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District’s 15 counties, 92 municipalities and 55 water and wastewater utilities represent more than five million Georgians. They are required to implement provisions of regional water plans, and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division enforces the plans through its audit process. We know of no other region in the country in which so many governments and water systems plan as comprehensively. In addition, the Georgia Water Stewardship Act mandates water-efficient fixtures statewide, limits outdoor watering and sets standards for reducing system leaks. 

Our region’s water stewardship is paying off. Since 2000, metro Atlanta’s regional per capita water use has dropped by more than 20 percent. With our Congressional delegation’s support, we can continue this important stewardship of our most precious natural resource, and we can look forward to continued eco-nomic development. 

Boyd Austin is the Mayor of Dallas, GA and the chairman of the board of the Metro North Georgia Water Planning District. 

The Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District was created by the Georgia General Assembly in 2001 to establish policy, create plans and promote intergovernmental coordination of stormwater management, wastewater treatment and water supply and conservation for 15 counties and 92 cities in metro Atlanta.
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