Politics & Government

Ga. legislature approves water conservation bills

ATLANTA — Identical water conservation bills cleared both chambers of the state Legislature on Wednesday, an overture designed to help the state in negotiating a deal with Florida and Alabama over water rights.

The bills provide incentives to encourage water conservation.

Among the provisions are a requirement that low-flow faucets and toilets be installed in new construction and a watering ban during some daylight hours in the warmer months.

A federal judge ruled last July that the sprawling metro Atlanta area had little legal right to the drinking water from Lake Lanier.

The ruling gave Georgia, Alabama and Florida — the states that have long feuded over the massive federal reservoir — until 2012 to reach an agreement.

If they don’t, the city’s access to its main water source could be reduced to the level it was at in the 1970s, when the city’s population was just a fraction of what it is now.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has been in renewed water talks with Fla. Gov. Charlie Crist and Alabama Gov. Bob Riley to try to hammer out a compromise.

The measures that passed the House and Senate on Wednesday were put forward by Perdue and are seen as a demonstration that Georgia is working to control its thirst for water, which has skyrocketed in recent years as Atlanta’s population has also boomed.

“This says Georgia is doing the things they should do to be a good steward of the natural resource of water,” said Sen. Ross Tolleson, the bill’s sponsor in the Senate.

“It says a lot when you’re sitting down at the table. It’s good for negotiations.”

Tolleson, R-Perry, said the conservation measures will help Georgia regardless of how the water crisis proceeds in the court system or among the governors.

“We don’t know a year from now where we’re going to be,” Tolleson said.

“If we don’t have a compact, this bill has in it things we’re going to have to do going forward.”

One House member complained that the bill places the state in the role of being “the toilet police.” But the bill passed the chamber 166-5.

State Rep. Rusty Kidd, I-Milledgeville, was one of the few no votes.

He said he relied on the advice of another legislator, state Rep. Tim Bearden, R-Villa Rica, in making his decision.“He’s more knowledgeable than I am,” Kidd said.

Kidd said he was concerned that the bill could help open the door for inter-basin transfers, essentially the piping of water from rural Georgia to metro Atlanta.

But the bill doesn’t authorize those transfers.

“This bill does not set up for inter-basin transfers,” Tolleson said later in the day. “This bill will help us be a lot more efficient with the use of our water.”

The Senate passed the bill unanimously Wednesday.

Although the bills that passed Wednesday are identical, they are technically separate pieces of legislation and so they each “cross over” to the other chamber.

One must receive the approval of both chambers before it heads to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Telegraph staff writer Travis Fain and Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey contributed to this report.