Meetings Give Explanation Of EDP Ag Water Permit Suspensions
By: GFB News
12/20/2012 3:03:36 PM
Two meetings on Dec. 4 in Camilla and Dec. 12 in Dawson provided agricultural stakeholders an explanation of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division's (EPD) suspension on new agricultural water permits earlier this year.
On July 30, EPD Director Jud Turner announced the decision to suspend new permitting for agricultural ground water and surface water use in Baker, Calhoun, Colquitt, Crisp, Decatur, Dooly, Dougherty, Early, Grady, Lee, Miller, Mitchell, Seminole, Sumter, Terrell, Turner and Worth Counties. The suspension also covers applications for surface water withdrawals for parts of Chattahoochee, Clay, Marion, Randolph, Schley, Stewart and Webster counties.
Cliff Lewis, who manages EPD's agricultural operations and permitting program, walked through the reasons behind the decision and answered questions on how the suspension would apply in various scenarios.
"Part of the EPD thinking behind this is to protect the current investments and infrastructure that's already out there," Lewis said, noting that the suspension is only for new permits or alterations to current permits that would increase water use. He also emphasized that the suspension will be reassessed in November 2013. One question that came up was whether farmers could apply now for permits to become effective after that time, but Lewis said the EPD is discouraging that approach, pointing out that the application requires a non-refundable $250 fee, and that the application is likely to change, meaning filing an early application is likely to provide no benefit.
From 2006 to 2012, Lewis said, thousands of permits were issued. With ongoing drought conditions, the EPD has begun to field inquiries from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division about efforts to protect stream flows in areas where there are federally endangered species and whether or how the resources have been affected by extended drought. Lewis said assessments are needed to answer those questions.
Dr. Gary Hawkins of the University of Georgia's Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department reviewed some ways farmers can be more efficient in their water use, including evaluating various types of irrigation for their specific farming area, looking for leaks and encouraging end-gun shutoffs, use of conservation tillage and soil moisture monitoring.
Former state representative Bob Hanner, who was an ex officio member of the Lower Flint-Ochlokonee Regional Water Council, reviewed the council's goals and stressed that during the development of the regional water plan, the council continually considered agriculture's economic impact on the region.
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