Now that we are in the full-swing of summer, I thought it would be a good time to discuss in further detail some of the things that are happening around our state and nation that will have a direct effect on both our community and potential legislation that could be introduced next year. As you have probably heard, one of the branches of our federal government that has been especially busy over the past several weeks is the Supreme Court of the United States.
As farmers and those with knowledge of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin know, the issue of who owns and has the rights to river water usage is not a new topic of debate. Rather, it has been something Georgia, Florida and Alabama have been “fighting” about since the 1980s. The “water wars” civil suit started when a dispute over the rights of the ACF water basin progressed into Florida suing Georgia for “equitable apportionment” in 2013. The inability to come to an intergovernmental agreement, or settle, meant that the “water wars” case reached as high as the Supreme Court of the United States heard Florida v. Georgia.
The Supreme Court of the United States reached the end of their court session on June 27, 2018 and handed out several landmark decisions. One of the decisions that was decided at the 11th hour was the judgement on whether to send the Florida v. Georgia case back to a special master (a person appointed by the Supreme Court to settle historic or geographic disputes between states) or whether they should rule on the rights of the ACF basin. In a close 5-4 decision, the court decided to send the case back to the special master.
Because of this, the rights of our water and whether or not Georgia’s usage should be regulated more is a decision that is yet to be made. And while we tried to come to an agreement between the states, we could not reach a solid consensus on what to do. The reason this affects us in Middle Georgia especially is because the Flint River, which runs just west of our district, combines with the Chattahoochee (which is partially located in Alabama, which is why they are also involved in the “water wars”) to create the Apalachicola River in Florida. This empties into the Apalachicola Bay and sustains a diverse fishing and oyster industry. The state of Florida is claiming that the usage of water from the Flint by both the city of Atlanta and farmers along the upper and lower Flint is having a negative, detrimental effect on the oyster industry. However, Georgia argues that we are using a sustainable amount of water and that the decline in oysters is not a direct impact of the water usage of farmers and citizens.
Senate Bill 451 is a bill I introduced this session that will help us to more accurately monitor the amount of water used by farms across the Flint River Basin. This bill, which was signed by Gov. Nathan Deal and went into effect on July 1, 2018, removes the permit fee associated with an application for farm water use and codifies the 2016 transfer of metering responsibilities from State Soil and Water Conservation Commission (SWCC) to the GA Environmental Protection Division (EPD), consolidating all agricultural water metering tasks in one State agency. It also requires EPD to contract out installations of new meters, maintenance, repairs and replacements of all existing meters and the reading and reporting of all meters. I think that this bill is a good step forward to allow us to continue monitoring water usage to prove our farmers are good stewards of water.
I look forward to the implementation of all of this bill and hope that you do too. New laws can help keep Georgians safe, educated and connected, making Georgia a place everyone wants to call home, and this new law could help us end a decades long dispute. If I can be of service to you in any way, please do not hesitate to contact my office.