U.S. Water News Online
CAMILLA, Ga. -- Georgia has to make managing its water a
top priority to continue the growth that has made it an economic and
agricultural powerhouse of the South, the state's top environmental
"For many decades the state has benefited from tremendous growth
-- population growth, economic growth -- but we have entered a time
now that as a consequence of that we are beginning to manage our
water resources in an unsustainable way," said Carol Couch, director
of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
"We can't continue the current practices of how we use and treat
water and continue to hope to double the population, sustain our
economic vitality in agriculture and bring in the industries we
want," she said.
Couch is visiting Mitchell, Decatur and Miller counties to discuss
water issues with farmers, many of them dependent on irrigation
systems to sustain their crops during dry spells, such as the
1998-2002 drought that cost them millions of dollars.
Couch said the state has the ability to manage water, it just
hasn't been a high priority.
But with the four-year drought and prolonged "water wars" with
neighboring Alabama and Florida, Georgia lawmakers approved a bill in
March that authorizes EPD to develop a statewide management plan to
assure adequate supplies for municipalities, industries and farmers.
Each region will develop its own plan and those will be considered in
setting statewide water policies.
EPD will present the statewide plan to the Legislature in 2008.
Farmers are already calling for an end to the moratorium on
drilling irrigation wells into the Floridan Aquifer, a major water
source in southwest Georgia, and some are concerned that the
installation of mandatory water meters on their wells is a first step
toward water rationing.
"When you start saying 'allocation,' it scares me to death,"
farmer Bubba Johnson told Couch.
But she assured him the state is not considering a "lock down" on
water in the Flint River Basin.
Johnson, a chicken and alligator farmer who also grows cotton and
peanuts, said long-term studies are needed to fully understand the
water needs of farmers during dry and wet years.
"We know we're facing change and we accept that as long as we're
involved in the decision making," said Johnson, president of the
Mitchell County Farm Bureau.
Couch's visit was arranged by state Rep. Richard Royal, D-Camilla,
who has championed farm issues in the Legislature.
She addressed about 25 farmers and researchers at the University
of Georgia's 130-acre C.M. Stripling Irrigation Research Park, then
she left to visit farms.
Scientists at the research center are fine-tuning the water
requirements of various crops, including corn, cotton and watermelons
using buried soil-moisture sensors and state-of-the-art irrigation
Couch said $4.5 million worth of EPD-funded research and the
involvement of farmers has moved Southwest Georgia ahead of the rest
of the state, except metropolitan Atlanta, in water management, and
she promised that agricultural needs will be considered in the
state's water management plan.
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