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Plan must be approved by state’s General Assembly before it can take effect
In an effort to deal with severe water shortages after one of Georgia's driest years ever, officials approved what may become the state's first comprehensive water management plan on Jan. 8, the Associated Press reported.
After almost three years of debate, the Georgia Water Council unanimously adopted the plan, which cannot take effect until it is approved by the state's General Assembly, according to the AP.
"This is not going to sit on the shelf. It's not set in stone. But what we've done is a start," said state Rep. Lynn Smith, who is expected to sponsor the proposal in the state House during the upcoming legislative session.
Although Georgia has never had a plan that directs how water from lakes, rivers and aquifers should be divided, the severity of the current drought and a growing population have made the proposal a matter of necessity.
The plan calls for the founding of 12 water-planning districts to manage state water over the next 50 years, the AP reported. It also proposes measuring the state’s water resources and charting how they can be used. It would take an estimated initial $30 million to implement the plan.
"We don't have any type of that planning work done," said Carol Couch, director of Georgia's Environmental Protection Division. "It's basic information. How do you budget your household if you don't know your income?"
Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue was one of several state officials who applauded the plan, which also has the backing of business groups, utilities and agricultural lobbyists, according to the AP.
"This process has been one of the most inclusive and thoughtful that I've observed, with each stakeholder having a seat at the table," Perdue said in a statement.
Some environmentalists have criticized the plan, however, saying planning districts should be based on watershed borders, not political boundaries. Others said the plan should be more ambitious, the AP reported.
"The plan reads like a plan to make another plan," said Jennette Gayer of Environment Georgia.
The General Assembly may approve the proposal, ask the council to submit a new one, or draft its own.