Moving water from one river basin to another could become a more common practice as the state looks for ways to meet its growing water needs. State regulators recently released guidelines for the inter-basin transfers.
The Environmental Protection Division’s criteria for inter-basin transfers are taken straight from the 2008 state water plan.
They’re meant to protect rivers and affected communities. Coosa Riverkeeper Joe Cook says the criteria themselves are great, but the way the rule is written takes away their strength. It says the EPD "should" consider them when issuing permits, rather than "must."
"If these criteria are put in rules with the language should that essentially gives EPD the option of choosing not to evaluate the criteria," says Cook. "Should' is the equivalent of asking your teenage daughter to clean up her bedroom before she goes out."
Cook says if anyone wanted to challenge the permit, whether it be communities finding their water supply depleted or environmentalists concern over its harm to the river basin, they’d have no legal recourse.
But Katie Kirkpatrick with the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce says if the language was strengthened it would prohibit too many transfers.
"Should' provides the flexibility necessary when you’re considering application on its own," says Kirkpatrick. "A one size fits all approach will not work in this situation."
Kirkpatrick says about 108 counties straddle two river basins. About 28 counties currently use inter-basin transfers.
The criteria are up for public review and comment until January 10th.