Metering and compliance key to protecting ag water use
By: Georgia Farm Bureau
2/22/2017 1:31:19 PM
Four days before Special Master Ralph Lancaster issued his ruling favoring Georgia in the lawsuit Florida filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, Southwest Georgia farmers attending an ag water issues meeting were cautioned that a ruling in Georgia's favor wouldn't mean the end of the decades-old water fight.
Lancaster's Feb. 14 ruling included comments critical of ag water use in Georgia, confirming the importance of the overall message approximately 80 farmers heard at the Ag Water Issues Lunch Decatur County Farm Bureau held Feb. 10. The takeaway message of the meeting was having irrigation meters and complying with Georgia's irrigation permit laws will be essential to protecting farmers' continued ability to irrigate.
"Even if the Florida lawsuit turns out good for us, we can't spike the football and run around in the end zone,"
Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black said. "We've got to make sure we're doing everything we can to conserve water. We've got to be diligent about our water use."
Black encouraged farmers to make certain their irrigation equipment is operating correctly and all water used is applied to crops and none is sprayed where crops aren't growing by from irrigation end guns.
Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) President Gerald Long told meeting attendees that he and GFB 9th Dist. Director Lucius Adkins are serving on a 10-member Agriculture Permitting Compliance Task Force appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal in late October charged with looking at the agricultural irrigation permitting process.
Long said the task force was instructed to determine if there is any noncompliance in the irrigation metering program, examine issues involved with any noncompliance and make recommendations regarding changes that would ensure better compliance.
Administration of the metering program, which was previously handled by the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission (GSWCC), was transferred to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) last year by executive order of Gov. Deal.
While speaking at the 2016 GFB Convention, Gov. Deal said he moved the GSWCC to the EPD because the EPD is the only state agency with regulatory enforcement authority that would be recognized by the courts. Deal stressed the move was made to protect farmers' interest in hopes Special Master Lancaster would take Georgia's proactive steps to conserve water into consideration.
"I think the governor and the legislature are interested in protecting agriculture, but we [farmers] have got to show we're trying to comply," Long told meeting attendees. "We know we're going to have to have a metering program [that records water use]."
Long also told meeting attendees that Georgia Farm Bureau filed a friend of the court brief last appointed by the U.S. Supreme Court from Oct. 31-Dec. 1, 2016.
"Georgia Farm Bureau's mission is to represent farmers in the legislative arena. We represent all of agriculture whether you're a member or not, but I strongly encourage you to get involved with your local Farm Bureau, so we have strength in numbers," Long said.
Adkins stressed the importance of farmers agreeing to have their water use measured by meters, if they aren't already, and complying with the irrigation rules the EPD already has in place for Southwest Georgia.
"I resent people telling us how to use our water supply, but the day of regulation is here. If you take irrigation water away, you'll harm the economies in the majority of the counties in Southwest Georgia. We've got to have our water, so we're [farmers] going to have to work with whoever is in charge of the metering program," Adkins said.
Doug Wilson, director of the Georgia Water Planning Policy Center, stressed the importance of the metering program.
"The metering program is important for the state, but it's most important for the user in case you [a farmer] ever have to defend your use," Wilson said. "You can point to the metering record and say this is how much water I've used and this is what I did with the water."
Depending on how the Florida lawsuit ultimately ends, Wilson said environmentalists could file lawsuits over ag water use and its impact on creeks where endangered mussels live.
To see photos from the meeting visit http://bit.ly/Decaturwatermeeting.
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