Since 2002, local governments and their partners in the Etowah Watershed have devised a proactive plan to address development impacts on federally protected fish. If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approves it, and participating cities and counties implement it, the plan would require new subdivisions, retail centers and offices to meet construction standards that keep pollution out of the river and its streams.
In return, local governments would receive federal permits to allow development while limiting the loss of Etowah, Cherokee and amber darters in the watershed. The resulting balance between economics and the environment will ensure the Etowah’s residents and natural resources continue to thrive for many generations.
Some in the development industry have made it clear they are concerned about potential costs associated with implementation of the plan’s policies.
FWS has evaluated these costs and believes they are within reason, and may be offset in time saved through a consistent, streamlined permitting process.
What often is lost in the debate is the cost of doing nothing. As unchecked development spreads into rural areas of the Etowah Watershed, water quality will degrade. Polluted water, as metro Atlanta has discovered, requires costly fixes, from purifying drinking water to watching our reservoirs fill with sediment.
Local officials have had the foresight to realize that future conflicts between development and the Etowah’s unique natural resources will arise if action is not taken. As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of treatment.
State Sen. Chip Pearson wrote an opinion piece recently arguing that the Etowah HCP is “not about the fish.” For 99 percent of the people supporting the HCP, he is absolutely right.
It has nothing to do with protecting the fish. For them, it’s about protecting the water quality of the Etowah River and Lake Allatoona. Hundreds of thousands of North Georgians depend on those sources for drinking water, recreation and economic prosperity. During the public comment of this plan, FWS received more than 500 comments on the HCP and more than 95 percent of these comments were in support.
For FWS, it is about the fish. We currently are evaluating whether this plan, if implemented, meets requirements to protect the darters under the Endangered Species Act. Because the plan is voluntary, local governments will have their own public process to determine if the plan is right for them.
Field supervisor, Georgia Ecological Services U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service