Water supply, conservation vital

If you have lived in Georgia for long, you have seen our population and economy grow significantly. You have also seen droughts come and go. Hopefully, recent rains are the beginning of the end to our drought conditions.

Population growth, economic development and drought place significant demands on our state’s water supply infrastructure. By proactively addressing our water supply issues with new water sources and conservation, we will have enough water to meet the state’s future needs.

With Gov. Nathan Deal’s leadership, Georgia is implementing a plan to ensure we have adequate water supply. The state will support new water supply infrastructure projects, including new and expanded reservoirs, to help capture more of the nearly 50 inches of rain Georgia receives on average each year. Water supply infrastructure projects also include new wells, system interconnections between communities and innovative approaches such as underground aquifers for storage and reuse.

In January 2011, Deal directed the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority to develop the Governor’s Water Supply Program. The purpose of the program is to align and mobilize the state’s resources to assist local governments with developing new water supply sources. With a commitment of $300 million over the next few years, the state will make loans and invest directly in water supply projects, beginning this summer.

But a state plan focused only on water supply infrastructure would be incomplete and ineffective. That’s why we’re pursuing water conservation as well. Conservation efforts have been developed and practiced in the state for many years. Water conservation practices have been required throughout metro Atlanta since 2003.

The Water Stewardship Act of 2010 calls for water conservation efforts by farmers, builders and water systems throughout Georgia. The recently adopted regional water plans outline region-specific water conservation measures as a priority practice for meeting future water needs.

In the past five years, GEFA has provided more than $65 million in low-interest financing for water conservation projects that serve the state’s current and future needs. Recently, we reduced our interest rate for water conservation projects.

Cities and counties can now finance water conservation projects at rates as low as 1.13 percent. GEFA also has $300 million available this year in its water and sewer-financing programs from which water conservation projects can be funded.

A comprehensive solution that includes providing new water supply and practicing conservation is critical to our state. Georgia’s population is projected to grow by an additional 4.6 million people by 2030.

The population increase and the resulting economic development and growth needed to sustain it will place new demands on our water resources. By ensuring adequate supply through new water sources and conservation, we’ll meet Georgia’s water needs.

If we have one, but not the other, then we’ll fail to provide Georgia families and businesses with the water resources they need to thrive.

Kevin Clark is executive director of the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority.

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