By BETH SIMON The Associated PressAUGUSTA, Ga.
(AP) For years, Georgia has relied on water from a handful of rivers and streams.
Now, its drinking water has become a commodity.
The state’s water supply is being sold on the global market, where it’s becoming the main ingredient for fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.
But the new rules on water use in Georgia are being challenged by environmentalists and farmers, who say they’re hurting the economy.
They say the state needs more money to help pay for the increased costs of water-saving measures like building reservoirs, replacing aging pipes and using solar panels to help heat homes.
The state has spent about $10 billion on water conservation over the last decade, but officials say the new requirements would make it more expensive.
The cost would be $100 million more per year for residents, according to state figures.
State regulators said in a recent rule change that people who use more than 30 percent of their water each day are exempt from the rule.
The new rule would require water-use requirements to be met by households with at least 10 people, which is the amount in the state’s population.
A growing number of people in Georgia and across the country have adopted an ag-gag approach to environmental issues, a tactic that critics say is a form of harassment that allows the government to silence people who speak out.
A handful of ag-gatchers, who describe themselves as “farmers, ranchers and activists,” are challenging Georgia’s rules, saying they’re not based on science and are hurting the agricultural sector.
They say the restrictions will hurt farmers and farmers’ families.
State officials say it’s unfair that people use more water than they are able to and that they don’t have the resources to deal with it.
They also say the rules are a common-sense solution to help the state meet its water needs and are a boon to the state economy.
The rules will save farmers an estimated $100.6 million annually in the first year, said Georgia Water Resources Commissioner Brian Pallas.
The new rules will require people who have more than 20 percent of a household’s water use to have an automatic water conservation plan in place, and the amount that is used each day must be tracked and reported.
Pallas said farmers are already seeing an increase in demand for water and the water savings from the new regulations.
They will also be able to add more water savings by using solar energy, using natural-gas heat pumps, and adding additional water-efficient devices, he said.
The Georgia Department of Environmental Quality says it has about 7,500 water conservation devices that will save the state more than $3.5 million.
It’s also been working with farmers to find ways to keep more water in their water wells, Pallas said.
But critics say the drought has hurt farmers’ ability to produce more food and crops.
And they say the water-efficiency measures won’t save water enough to meet the state requirement.
Georgia has already spent about half a billion dollars to fix aging pipes, Paresons office said.
In addition to the new rule, it plans to spend about $8 billion on new irrigation systems.
The ag-aggers are also suing the state.
They said in court papers that Georgia has the authority to regulate water use.
They said they have already spent more than a billion on legal fees and a $5.3 million court-ordered settlement.
The case is pending.
In a statement, Paus said that the rules would be enforced as designed and are being carefully considered.