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GUEST OPINION: Coosa River Basin Initiative
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In January, Gov. Nathan Deal charged a task force made up of seven state agency heads with the job of figuring out how to best spend $300 million to increase the states water supplies.

The charge included a mandate to align state financial support for critical, cost-effective water supply projects. After some six months of deliberations, the Task Force has concluded that the most cost-effective water supply projects available to the statewater conservation and efficiency measures--should NOT be eligible for funding under this initiative.

If this leaves you scratching your head, youll be even more puzzled when you hear the explanation: The lead agency on the Task Force, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA), explains that funding for such projects is already available and is not being fully utilized by local governments and water providers.

However, a quick check of GEFA records show that the agency has made $65 million in loans for conservation projects in the last five yearsat a time when local governments are reluctant to take on any new debt. Clearly, local governments are interested in water efficiency.

But instead of allowing local governments and water providers the opportunity to identify the best projects for their communitiesbe they replacing water-wasting toilets or building a reservoir, the Task Force has instead placed priority on multi-million dollar reservoirs, ensuring that our tax dollars will go to lobbyists, lawyers, engineers and real estate interests that are the first in line to benefit from reservoir investments.

Two projects that will likely line up at the trough for this fundingGlades Reservoir in Hall County and Shoal Creek Reservoir in Dawson Countyhave a combined estimated price tag of $950 million. They willif current yield studies prove accurate (and this is highly questionable)produce 160 million gallons a day for metro Atlanta communities.

A lot of water, to be sure, but that same water can be secured through conservation measures at a fraction of the cost. A recent analysis of water conservation opportunities in metro Atlanta by Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper shows that the region could secure as much as 160 million gallons a day through just three conservation measures.

In 2010, Georgia adopted the Water Stewardship Act which mandated a modest list of statewide conservation measures. Among them was a requirement for local water providers to assess the amount of water leaking from their distribution pipes. The first of those reports are due to the state in January, but to date, the state has not dedicated any funding to help locals fix their leaks.

While the pipes continue to leakoften at a rate of more than one out of every four gallonsthe state deems it cost-effective to invest millions in reservoir projects, only to have that expensive water pumped to systems where it will be spilled on the ground.

Thats not just bad business; its plain dumb.

Gov. Deal and the Task Force need to go back to square one and allow communities choosing conservation to compete side-by-side with reservoir developers for a slice of this $300 million taxpayer pie.

The author of this article, Joe Cook, is Executive Director & Riverkeeper for the Coosa River Basin Initiative.