Flint River drought law under study

mlee@macon.comFebruary 7, 2013 

ATLANTA -- A state law that’s meant to convince farmers to leave water in the lower Flint River during drought is likely to be revised this year, but major changes are further in the future.

More tests and studies on the flow probably will be part of an edit of the Flint River Drought Protection Act, and farm water efficiency mandates might be as well.

“The main message is, we’re going to be looking at how to really adjust that act, both some this year, but mostly commissioning studies ... and then I would point you to a day in the near future where we need to reform the act more substantially,” Georgia Environmental Protection Division Director Jud Turner told the state House Natural Resources and Environment Committee on Thursday.

The act says in case of drought, if the Legislature sets aside money to do it, the state can offer to pay farmers on the Flint as far north as Macon County not to use their water withdrawal permits. But no money was in the Flint account last year, and no buys were made when the severe drought and low river laid bare the act’s shortcomings.

“We have several things to work on,” Turner said.

“Study it and see. Is it drought-related, weather-related or withdrawal-related?” asked state Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City. Her district includes Talbot County and part of Meriwether County. She said she would like to see the upper Flint added to the act.

The low flow in the river, she said, is cutting business at canoe and kayak outfitters and at Boy Scout Camp Thunder.

‘We’ve seen some very, very different flows over the last few years,” she said, adding that areas above her district might be soaking up the water, but she doesn’t have the data to say for sure.

Another idea for a more robust Flint is to mandate farmers to use more water-efficient irrigation systems.

Agriculture irrigation is by far the biggest consumer of water in the 13-county region Upper Flint water planning region, which runs roughly from Spalding County south to Crisp County. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, counting both surface and underground water withdrawals, agriculture used several times more water than other industries or homes in the 10 years ending in 2005.

A few dozen irrigated fields are around Reynolds and become much more frequent as the river rolls south.

Cutting water use to 80 percent is probably doable for farmers who have regular circular or rectangular fields equipped with mechanized irrigation systems, according to Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council.

“There is need and desire to get more efficient,” said Tolar, who also said farmers are already stepping up. The lower Flint, he said, “is the story of irrigation efficiency that we don’t talk about enough.”

State Rep. Robert Dickey, R-Musella, who is a peach grower, also said he thinks his farming colleagues would be willing to use water more efficiently.

“If you give them enough lead time to be able to invest their money in pieces of (more efficient) equipment, I think it would be somewhat acceptable,” Dickey said. “I do not think it would be too onerous.”

It’s not clear when a bill will be filed. There are 26 working days left in the annual legislative session.

To contact writer Maggie Lee, e-mail her at mlee@macon.com

The Telegraph is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service