Leadership, Data, Planning & Technology – Keys to Georgia’s Water Management
By Chris Clark, President & CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce
Over the past decade, water users in Georgia’s agricultural and businesses sectors, along with those in urban communities, have demonstrated that there are achievable, affordable solutions that deliver meaningful, sustainable savings at all levels of water use and, that we are committed to adopting technologies and management practices that drive real change in water use habits.
Jesse Newman’s article: “Water Wars That Defined The West Are Heading East,” WSJ, 12/3/2019, outlined some of the tensions and issues associated with contemporary water management in Georgia [link] but he failed to explain the lengths that Georgians have taken to be better stewards of our environment. We challenge the notion that it is a forgone conclusion that water supply and use challenges evident in other regions need to be the ‘new normal’ in eastern States.
We want to protect our trout fishery waters in the North Georgia mountains, our immense water sheds like the aptly nicknamed “Amazon of America” the Altamaha River, our fast growing bio-technology sector that prizes water quality, our 100 miles of pristine coastline and the ability to continue to feed and cloth millions of global citizens. Doing all of this requires true foresight and commitment to face increased drought cycles, saltwater intrusion, population pressure and more fierce storms. Simply put we are working daily to protect our resources.
In Georgia, we have been fortunate to have Governor Sonny Perdue (now Secretary Perdue) followed by Nathan Deal and now Governor Brian Kemp, who have all been wholly committed to leading Georgia’s communities, farmers, businesses and industry to meet our water challenges. They have repeatedly tried to work with our regional partners and their leadership has engendered bi-partisan support for statewide water planning, investment and conservation initiatives that are delivering real measurable outcomes.
In 2010, Georgia passed the bi-partisan Water Stewardship Act, a landmark nationally recognized bill that was the result of the work of the business community, government leaders, environmentalist, farmers and sports enthusiast. This cooperation has created what Governor Perdue called a “new culture of conservation” for all water users, uses and regions. The Act covered everything from agricultural metering to low-flow toilets and grey water reuse in new construction to more research. Our commitment also extends to new statewide and regional planning processes, accurate, timely information gathering and a focus on technology and innovation to drive water use efficiencies.
Importantly, these planning efforts have been a conduit to focus the talents of entrepreneurs, students, researchers and innovators on the opportunity to engage this challenge. From satellites to in-soil and crop sensors, there are few limits to the scope of the technologies that can be applied and, as our researchers have discovered, if they work here in Georgia, there is a global market waiting to apply these solutions.
Today’s farming and business operations are not like our grandfather’s. Now we are real-time, big data generating enterprises capitalizing on technology-driven solutions, decision making supported by apps, monitors, drones, sensors, consumer sentiment and market-based dynamics that add further pressure to minimize wastage and drive water-use efficiencies.
As our friends out west know, there are no silver bullets and the necessary infrastructure investments are not cheap. However, with global population forecasting a demand for 30% more water and 50% more food in the next 30 years we all have no choice but to continue aggressively seeking innovative solutions to better manage the use and reuse of available water resources and ensure the protection of all watersheds.
In Georgia, we have and will continue to lead our neighbors and embrace these challenges.
Chris Clark is the President& CEO of the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the former state Commissioner for the Department of Natural Resources.