Ag News

EPD begins installing water meters in Flint and Suwanee River basins

Farmers in the Flint and Suwanee River Basins who have a permitted water withdrawal on their land issued before Dec. 31, 2002, should receive a state-funded water meter within the next three years. This comes as part of an expanded focus Georgia is putting on the state’s ag water metering program to strengthen data collection efforts related to ag water use.

Under the ag water metering program, which was established by HB 579 in 2003, ag water withdrawal permits issued before Dec. 31, 2002, are eligible for state-funded meters. Farmers with water permits issued after 2002 are required to purchase and install a meter at their own expense.

Earlier this year, the Agriculture Permitting Compliance Task Force, which Gov. Deal established in October 2016, recommended that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division develop a plan to install meters on permitted water withdrawal points eligible for a state meter in the Flint and Suwanee River Basins to obtain accurate data about ag’s water use. Agriculture is represented on this council by Georgia Farm Bureau President Gerald Long, GFB 9th District Director Lucius Adkins, Casey Cox, executive director of the Flint River Soil & Water Conservation District and Georgia Association of Conservation Districts, UGA Stripling Irrigation Research Park Superintendent Calvin Perry, and Dr. Gary Hawkins, UGA Water Resource Management & Policy Specialist.

Deal gave the Georgia Environmental Protection Division responsibility for overseeing the ag metering program previously administered by the Georgia Soil & Water Conservation Commission on Dec. 1, 2016. In June, Deal announced a $10.5 million investment in the state water metering program from OneGeorgia funds.

        “The reason we’re doing this is so we can continue the state’s efforts of ag water data collection that has been ongoing since 2004,” explained EPD Agriculture Water Project Manager Marjie Dickey. “While Georgia is confident in its understanding of ag water use and the implementation of conservation efforts, the data collected from these meters will provide an additional layer of information useful for water planning in the future.”

EPD records show there are 5,640 withdrawal points due a state-funded meter in the Flint and Suwanee Basins. The Flint River Basin covers all or part of 42 counties while the Suwanee River Basin covers all or part of 20 counties.

EPD has developed a three-wave approach over the next three years to install the meters in these two basins. The first wave, known as the pilot wave, is focusing on placing “easy install” meters in these 16 counties:  Brooks, Calhoun, Colquitt, Crisp, Dooly, Irwin, Lee, Macon, Randolph, Sumter, Terrell, Tift, Turner Webster, Wilcox and Worth.

        “An easy install means meter installers don’t have to dig up concrete or replumb irrigation water

delivery infrastructure in any way. They can cut the pipe and drop the meter in and it’s installed,” Dickey said. “We’re focusing on easy installs first due to the time and money involved with more complicated installs that might require machinery to be taken out to the site location.”

        The EPD has contracted with the Georgia Rural Water Association (GRWA) to serve as the general contractor of the pilot wave from Oct. 1 until March 31, 2018.  GRWA has subcontracted with Shoemaker Irrigation, LLC based in Athens to install the meters. Installation of the first meters began Oct. 30 in Turner County, Dickey said. McCrometer meters are being installed at all the sites for data uniformity.

        The GRWA has subcontracted the Georgia Water Planning & Policy Center at Albany State University to conduct the site assessments being done to determine the water withdrawal points that need meters and the prep work that must be done at each site to install a meter.

“We’ve been out in the field for six or seven weeks, and we’ve completed a lot of assessments,” said GWPPC Director Mark Masters on Oct. 18. “Farmers understand the importance of good data and we certainly appreciate the support we’ve received from landowners in the target counties in getting these assessments done efficiently.”   

Masters said the assessments involve locating the source of water for each permit, recording whether the water source is ground or surface water, and the type of pipe in which the meter will be installed along with other data needed to order and install the meter. The GWPPC is also mapping the acreage served by the permit source.

        The EPD will notify landowners with water permits via mail if a meter(s) will be installed on their property.  Shoemaker Irrigation is also notifying affected permit holders of their respective planned installation date prior to installation.

        The Georgia Forestry Commission will continue its contract to read water meters in the Flint and Suwanee River Basins beginning Nov. 1. EPD’s ag metering team will be reading meters in all other river basins across the state, Dickey said.

        Georgia House Bill 579 protects the agricultural water use information of an individual permit holder from being released, Dickey said, however the EPD can release basin-wide use information.

        “Installing these meters is important because it will allow Georgia to continue to validate that Georgia’s farmers are efficient water users and are operating with conservation-based water use practices,” Dickey said. “We must continue to advance this initiative for data collection on water use to show the real use of agricultural irrigated farmland.”