A judge's decision in a power plant case could make it harder for Georgia power companies to pipe water from one basin to another.
The case challenges the state's regulatory procedure for inter-basin transfers.
The state Environmental Protection Division currently doesn't consider it an inter-basin transfer if you take water from one basin and use it in another, as long as you return the water you don't use.
A judge this week struck down that logic in a case involving a proposed Middle Georgia power plant that plans to take water from the Oconee River, use it in the Ogeechee River basin and return what's left to the Oconee.
Attorney Justine Thompson of GreenLaw, a legal firm representing the plant's opponents, says the decision could make it harder for the E.P.D. to permit power plants.
"You cannot site a facility that generates electricity in a basin if you don't have the water to support that use," Thompson says of the ruling, in the case of Plant Washington, near Sandersville. "They're going to have to go through special hearings. They're going to have to consider the water use an impact on water users in the Oconee Basin and give current water users priority."
The plant's supporters say, the extra procedures only will add an extra month or two to the process.
"It's purely a procedural matter and has no impact at all on the plant's viability," says Dean Alford, a spokesman for Power4Georgians, a power-industry group promoting the plant in question, Plant Washington. "It causes a little delay because the state has to go back for a public hearing on the issue."
The E.P.D. could appeal the ruling, but agency officials aren't commenting until they review the judge's order.