Atlanta wants water, and since a judge ruled last year it couldn't take water from Lake Lanier anymore, the big city is casting its eyes toward the Savannah River.
But a bill introduced last week is aimed at protecting the Savannah River — and other rivers including the Ogeechee — from harm if Atlanta gets its way, said Chandra Brown, Executive Director of the Ogeechee Riverkeepers Association.
The River Basin Protection Act of 2010 will protect small communities along the Savannah River, as well as the Ogeechee and other rivers, if Atlanta succeeds in its bid to transfer water from the Savannah River basin to use in the city, she said.
It would require the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to review the impact on downstream communities along the Savannah River — as well as impact on other rivers such as the Ogeechee — before allowing water to be diverted to another river basin, she said.
Right now, all that is required is a seven-day warning in the form of a press release before an interbasin transfer.
Brown and others fear that if Atlanta gets its way and redirects water that would otherwise flow into the Savannah, it would affect the Savannah and Ogeechee rivers by reducing the amount of water flow — therefore affecting water sources and lowering the rivers' abilities to handle sewage waste, she said.
The House version of the bill is HB 1301; in the Senate it's SB 462. If passed, the bill will protect the Savannah and Ogeechee rivers even better than current regulations, Brown said.
If the bill passes, Atlanta would "have to jump through hoops" to prove their actions would "not affect the Ogeechee and downstream communities along the Savannah River," she said.
Current state laws protecting the rivers from Atlanta's needs are weak, but the proposed bill will close loopholes and offer stronger protection, she said.
Brown is also a member of the Georgia Water Coalition, which is backing the bill.
The bill would demand certain criteria — economic and environmental — before an interbasin transfer (taking water from one river basin and redirecting it to another) could occur, she said.
The bill exempts agricultural and mining lands, as well as products being shipped that contain water, from having to get permits for interbasin transfers, but provides for those transfers on an emergency basis.
The Savannah River is already working hard to handle its waste, and if a heaver load were dumped on the river by an interbasin transfer that directs more water to Atlanta, serious water quality and quantity issues would arise and compromise the Savannah and Ogeechee rivers, Brown said.
State Representatives Bob Lane, Jon Burns and Butch Parrish support the bill, as does Sen. Jack Hill, she said. Brown urged citizens to convey thanks to these legislators and express their support of the proposed bill.
Lane, Burns and Parrish have already cosigned the bill, she said.