Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Magnuson stunned Georgia officials when he ruled the state has little right to Lanier, a federal reservoir that is the main source of the Atlanta region’s drinking water. The judge has given the states and Congress three years to reach a compromise before restricting access to the lake to levels from the mid-1970s, when Atlanta was a fraction of its current size. Georgia is appealing the judge’s ruling.
Perdue said the legislation he is backing would codify what he called Georgia’s “culture of conservation.”
“These are the right things to do, whether the judge’s ruling is sustained or not,” Perdue told reporters at the state Capitol on Wednesday morning.
Perdue's commitment to conservation has shifted over the years. During a drought in 2007, Perdue told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's editorial board that his order for a 10 percent cutback in water usage in North Georgia was largely symbolic and would have a negligible effect on the area's supply.Later that year he sought to amend those comments, saying conservation is "more than symbolic. ... Conservation will need to be a part of our future because it's the right thing to do. We cannot treat [water] as having no value."
Reactions were mixed among environmentalists and the home building, agricultural and landscaping industries. Some were hesitant to say much about the legislation Wednesday since it had not yet been made public.
“It was a good first step,” said Neill Herring, an environmental lobbyist for the Georgia chapter of the Sierra Club and the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. “Five years ago it would have been a great first step. There is plenty of room for improvement, but we haven’t seen what [Perdue] has got. It is kind of hard to go by a press release.”
An executive with the Home Builders Association of Georgia said her group wants to study the details in the bill once it is introduced.
“The Home Builders Association embraces water conserving measures as long as they are reasonable,” Kelly Lass, the association’s executive vice president, said in an e-mail. “Home builders already install low-flow toilets and other water-saving faucets and showers.”
Other lawmakers have called for outdoor watering restrictions in the wake of the judge’s ruling. Last week, Rep. Debbie Buckner (D-Junction City) filed legislation that would prohibit outdoor watering for "planting, growing, managing, or maintaining ground cover, trees, shrubs, or other plants" between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. Some exceptions would apply in her bill.
Perdue said state officials have the power to enforce such restrictions as needed.
“The very fact of trying to do this in a blanket sort of way I’m not sure is the best way to create good water policy,” Perdue said.
Perdue’s administration, meanwhile, is in the middle of negotiating a water-sharing agreement with Alabama and Florida. He said he is optimistic a deal could be reached before the end of this year. Such a compact would be sent to the legislatures in all three states for consideration before being sent to Congress.
“I have been at this a little over seven years now, and I am more optimistic than I ever have” been, Perdue said. “I see a willingness. I see actually an intent on Alabama and Florida’s parts to come together with us for reasonable solutions.”