Dr. Becky Champion
JASPER, Ga. — North Georgia water officials began the monumental task Friday of laying out Georgia’s first water plan.
Last year, Gov. Sonny Perdue created 10 regional water councils — including the Coosa-North Georgia Regional Water Council — to help draft the state’s first water plan with the goal of sharing and storing water effectively throughout the state. The governor and the state’s Environmental Protection Division hope they groups can come up with the plan by June 2011.
“I think there are a lot of people who want that to happen. I know I do,” said Walker County Coordinator David Ashburn, who was elected vice chairman of the council.
Friday marked the first meeting of the 30-member council, which includes representatives from most of the region’s 18 North Georgia counties from Polk to Habersham and four river basins including the Tennessee, Chattahoochee, Coosa and Savannah. The council includes representatives from Dade, Walker, Whitfield, Catoosa, Murray and Gordon counties.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do with the rest of our meetings,” said Dade County council member Doug Anderton, general manager of the county’s water authority.
The group on Friday received background information on the water systems of the area, outlined its bylaws and elected officers, choosing Mr. Ashburn as vice chairman and Rome, Ga., City Manager John Bennett as chairman.
“I think the drought’s actually forced us to look at our resources and look at these issues,” said Catoosa County resident and council member Keith Coffey.
In data about water usage, Whitfield and Floyd counties dominated most of the categories, including permitted wastewater flow, wastewater permits and water withdrawals. Several members from those counties attributed the numbers to industry, saying carpets in Dalton and various plants in Rome increased usage.
Dalton Utilities President Don Cope challenged a few of the water usage figures and joined a chorus of other council members calling for more data.
“We need a lot more information about what’s really going on,” he said.
One of the group’s strengths is its diversity, according to Dr. Becky Champion, assistant branch chief for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The group includes municipal leaders, utility managers, industry leaders, environmentalists and other parties with interests at stake.
“You have to have all of those people at the table because we all share those resources,” Dr. Champion said.
Jimmy Petty, a Murray County cattle farmer who sits on the council, said his biggest concern is ensuring farmers have water for irrigation. He said he hopes the group will consider adding new reservoirs to the river system.
Mr. Coffey, an environmental engineer with a carpet company in Dalton, said the stakes are high for the group.
“This being the first plan of its type, it’s important we get it right,” he said.
Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...