Meter data shows farmers using water responsibly
Data the state of Georgia has collected on farmers’ water use since 2004 shows farmers are responsibly using water to irrigate their crops, Mark Masters, director of the Georgia Water Planning and Policy Center (GWPPC) at Albany State University told GFB Commodity Conference attendees.
“Georgia farmers do a good job of responsibly using Georgia’s water resources, Masters said. “The vast majority of acreage we’ve mapped in the field is metered and irrigated using efficient, low pressure irrigation systems.”
Masters said the good story about Georgia’s ag water use is backed up by the numbers the meters and mapping efforts provide. Data collected by the Georgia Water Planning and Policy Center through field verification of thousands of irrigation systems across the state demonstrates a high-level of water efficiency in irrigation equipment and management practice.
Under the ag water metering program established by the Georgia General Assembly 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 buy and install a meter at their own expense.
Gov. Nathan Deal established the Agriculture Permitting Compliance Task Force in Oct. 2016 and transferred responsibility of the ag metering program from the Georgia Soil & Water Conservation Commission to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Agriculture representatives on the compliance task force include Georgia Farm Bureau (GFB) President Gerald Long, GFB 9th Dist. Director Lucius Adkins, UGA Stripling Irrigation Research Park Superintendent Calvin Perry and Dr. Gary Hawkins, UGA Water Resource Management & Policy Specialist.
In 2016, the task force recommended the Georgia EPD finish installing water meters on any remaining permitted water withdrawal points eligible for a state-funded meter. The GWPPC has been subcontracted to conduct site assessments and collect other relevant data to inform purchase and installation of meters at active withdrawal sites.
Masters thanked the ag community for its support of metering and encouraged them to remain engaged. He noted that, while the state is responsible for installing, maintaining and capturing annual data from water meters, farmers and landowners play a key role in the overall success of the program.
“The farmers we meet in the field day in and day out have been extraordinarily helpful. They know the importance of water to their operations, and understand the value of getting the data right.”
The EPD will notify landowners with water pemits via mail if a meter(s) need to be installed on their property. Private companies the state has contracted to install the meters will also notify affected permit holders before the anticipated installation date. The EPD anticipates contracting the Georgia Forestry Commission to perform annual water meter readings across the state beginning this fall.
Georgia House Bill 579 prevents the ag water use information of an individual permit holder from being released, however, the EPD can release basin-wide water use information presented in summary form. This data will help statewide water planning efforts by providing improved water demand estimates and resource assessments.
“We took a large step forward in our knowledge of ag water use from the first round of water planning in 2009 through 2011 to the plans updated early last year,” Masters said. “We’re continuing to refine and improve, and that’s ultimately a good thing for the state and those that rely on its water resources.”
A topic of discussion among attendees at the commodity conference was the ongoing water lawsuit with Florida. The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to a special master for further consideration in the 5-4 opinion it issued in June. In writing the dissenting opinion for the four judges who disagreed with the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas referenced experts Dr. Robert Stavins and Phillip Bedient who have shown Georgia’s total water use amounts to just four percent of basin flows in an average year and eight percent in a dry year. This allows 92 to 96 percent of the basin water to flow into Florida. “According to Georgia’s experts, the primary factor that dictates flows in the Apalachicola River is precipitation, not consumption,” Thomas wrote citing Charles A. Menzie.