What is in this article?:
- Suspension of Georgia irrigation permits said to protect current users
- Will be re-evaluated annually
- Still accepting applications
• There are currently 9,000 permits issued for agricultural water use from the Floridan aquifer in southwest Georgia.
• A lot of permits have been issued in the region — there’s a high density, and they’re very close together.
• “A lot of farmers have made significant investments in infrastructure and wells and irrigation systems, and we are having issues with those folks, so the protection of existing users is part of what led to this moratorium.”
GEORGIA EPD OFFICIAL Cliff Lewis explains the suspension of new irrigation permits during a recent grower meeting in Terrell County, Ga. The suspension was announced last summer and is in effect at least until November of this year.
Will be re-evaluated annually
The suspension will be re-evaluated annually beginning in November 2013.
It does not apply to permit applications from other areas of the lower Flint and Chattahoochee River basins.
“No new applications are being accepted and no permits are being considered for any withdrawal from the Floridan aquifer,” says Lewis.
“Any application that was submitted to EPD before July 30, 2012, will be processed and considered. It doesn’t mean the permit will be issued. It’ll be looked at under the previous criteria for permitting.”
The suspension also applies to the modification of existing permits, he adds. “If you have an existing agricultural withdrawal permit and you want to increase the acres or pumping capacity, that’s also covered under the suspension and not being looked at. We can process the permit, and if the land is sold, we can transfer the permit.”
This marks the second time such a suspension has been enacted, says Lewis. The previous one was from 1999 to 2005. However, permitting resumed after the development of the Flint River Basin Conservation and Development Plan.
From March 2006 to July 30, 2012, several thousand permits were issued, he says.
The protection of endangered species was another consideration when issuing the suspension, he says.
“We have federally endangered mussels in the Flint River Basin. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to know what we are doing to protect the flows in that basin, and what we are doing to protect the species.
“Also, has the resource changed, has degradation occurred, and have there been any other adverse impacts? We really don’t know the answer to those questions.
“We’ve been issuing permits since 2006, and with budget cuts and resource limitations, we haven’t conducted a great deal of studies like we did initially to develop the first conservation plan.
“The standard thinking is that we need to assess what has happened since we began reissuing permits back in 2006. We need to know what has happened to the resources, and what are we doing to protect certain minimum flows in the rivers and streams and tributaries in this region.”
Another factor in the suspension has been the tri-state water negotiations involving Georgia, Florida and Alabama, says Lewis.
The governors and other leaders in the three states are discussing what types of agreements can be made to insure that minimum flows are coming across the Georgia state line south of Lake Seminole, he says.
“EPD’s job is to determine reasonable use,” he says. “Georgia is a riparian rights water system, meaning that if you’re a landowner, you have a reasonable right to water use that runs on, under, or adjacent to your property.
“Reasonable means different things to different people. At EPD, it has always meant that what’s reasonable is whatever you’ve told us you need to run your pivot. Some might not agree with that interpretation, and that’s what we’re assessing.”
The EPD will begin conducting assessments and modeling, says Lewis, to determine if and where permits can continue to be issued.