The Los Angeles Times today noted that Georgia is in the middle of a brutal drought – especially in southwest Georgia — that remains officially unofficial:
Environmentalists, scientists and farmers point to places like the Flint [River], as well as reservoir levels and stream and rainfall data as proof of drought. Republican Gov. Nathan Deal and much of the business community contend that there is no drought. Unlike his predecessor, Deal has yet to declare one.
The state’s resistance to more drastic measures stems from its desire to protect its business-friendly image, critics say. “Atlanta is the brightest symbol of the ‘New South,’ and the Southern miracle depends on the use of natural resources,” said Gordon Rogers, executive director of Flint Riverkeeper, an environmental group. “And the key resource is water.”
A drought declaration would indeed allow the state to impose tougher water conservation restrictions. The 2007-2008 drought declaration by Gov. Sonny Perdue had a substantial economic impact. Again, from the Times:
Along with the recession, the watering ban pummeled one of the state’s largest industries, so-called urban agriculture, which includes turf grass and landscaping, leading to layoffs and bankruptcies.
This time, the $8-billion-a-year industry was spared what Georgia Agribusiness Council President Bryan Tolar calls the “knee-jerk reaction” of the watering ban.
But there is more to the lack of a drought declaration than that, according to Judson Turner, director of the state Environmental Protection Division. One reason, he said, is that – with conservation measures in place, and the water war going Georgia’s way – the state is in a more comfortable position than it was five years ago.
But there is cash involved, too. About $30 million in direct state funds.
Take the aforementioned Flint River basin, which starts at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and flows into the Florida panhandle. Said Turner in a telephone interview on Monday:
”In the southwest part of the state, you have a Flint River Drought Protection Act. When you declare a drought, it triggers a lottery that we used to pay for, for people to voluntarily acreage out of irrigation and be paid for with One Georgia funds that we didn’t have.
“We projected, with commodity prices where they are right now – which is very high, that nobody would have volunteered acreage unless you got the pot sweet enough, you’d have spent about $30 million.”
The program is about a decade old, and early on was a source of graft, Turner said – with farmers claiming to take acreage out of circulation that was covered with trees. But he also said that the program in the end didn’t work.
“It wouldn’t have made sense to spend that kind of money and not have any results. It wasn’t just a budgetary decision. It just didn’t work,” he said. “It’s not in the right place, doesn’t produce the right result, and you’ve just wasted $30 million.”
The Deal administration is working on revisions to the drought protection act that may abandon the lottery in favor of a crop insurance program.
Which could make the declaration of droughts less expensive – at least to the state.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider