“But we’re still accepting applications for the Claiborne aquifer. We are also issuing permits for ponds that are not considered state water, with water being pumped from the Claiborne aquifer.

“If you’re considering buying property, you can go to the Claiborne today or wait until November to see what happens.”

Lewis says he isn’t certain that state geologists and other personnel will be finished with their modeling by November.

“I don’t know that we’ll get a data set that’s robust enough that will allow you to comfortably make a decision in context to litigation. If you think about a 5-gallon bucket — the top 3 inches is what provides the base flow to the rivers and streams in this basin and also provides protection for this species.

“That’s what we’re talking about when we talk about the perimeters of base flows.”

Simulated withdrawals will be conducted to determine their effect on the region, he says. Other factors that’ll be considered include climate data, specific crop needs, and agricultural forecasts.

The suspension applies only to agriculture, says Lewis, because the majority of the water withdrawals in the region are for farming.

“There aren’t a lot of municipalities and industries in the region asking for more water withdrawals. Unfortunately, one of the most contentious things that came out of the state water planning process was the assumption that agricultural water use was 100 percent.

“We know it isn’t 100 percent, but what is it? The EDP used 100 percent in its original assumption, and that’s not correct. The initial modeling didn’t provide a good number for what agriculture was withdrawing. The metering program gives a better model of what agriculture is using.”

The Flint River Drought Protection Act, which was put into effect in 2001 and 2001, was not working, says. Lewis. The idea behind the legislation was to pay farmers to take acres out of irrigation to protect certain flows at the state lines.

“With commodity prices and land prices what they are today, it would cost an amount of money that the state couldn’t afford today. This is not to say it isn’t a useful tool, but the act doesn’t work in its present form.”

As an alternative, he says, the EPD is looking into the possibility of taking growers off of surface water in some areas and putting them into groundwater systems. It wouldn’t be a one-time payment, and it would be more of a long-term solution, he adds.

Lewis recommends that growers in the region affected by the suspension hold off on submitting any new applications until after a decision is made in November on whether or not to resume permitting.

“There will be no advantage to submitting an application during this moratorium. You won’t be the first in line when and if permitting is resumed. It’s a $250 non-refundable fee, and the application process is likely to change, so you won’t gain anything by submitting applications now.”

For more information about the suspension or if you have questions about specific property, growers can call the EPD Agricultural Permitting Office in Tifton at 229-391-2400.

phollis@farmpress.com