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Letter: Dirty Politics Amid Water Projects

Joe Cook, executive director & riverkeeper for the Coosa River Basin Initiative, contends that cronyism has guided state funds aimed at water projects.

Last month, the Georgia Water Coalition released its “Dirty Dozen” report highlighting the “most egregious offenses” to Georgia’s water resources.

Gov. Nathan Deal’s administration, which was the target of much of the report, responded by calling the 185-member coalition of environmental, hunting and fishing, business, landowner and faith-based groups a “liberal interest group.”

Label the messengers “liberal,” so the thinking goes in some quarters of this state, and the message will be ignored.

But a careful look at the Water Coalition’s “Dirty Dozen” shows that the message is about dirty politics as much as dirty water.

Within the report, the so-called “liberal interest group” highlights $213 million in government spending that should boil the blood of fiscal conservatives…and conservationists.

The dirty facts include $9 million in state gifts to Deal’s political supporters; $82 million in state loans to questionable reservoir projects and $122 million in fees collected from taxpayers that have been looted by state budget writers.

Headlining the Dirty Dozen was Gov. Deal’s $300 million water supply program, a pet project with the intended purpose of directing state loans and grants to “critical, cost-effective” water supply projects.

Not a bad idea…if “critical and cost-effective” remain the guiding principles. Unfortunately, cronyism trumped “cost effective.”

The only two projects to receive direct state investment (funds not requiring reimbursement to the state) were a $4.4 million well-drilling proposal for private resort and water park owned by Deal campaign contributor Virgil Williams and a $4.6 million experimental groundwater injection proposal that will be conducted by Deal campaign contributor, Joe Tanner & Associates.

The Coalition, as well as professional groups representing local governments and water utilities, urged the Governor to make conservation and efficiency projects—our most cost effective water supply options—eligible for funding under his program.

The Deal Administration refused. When the first round of loans and grants were announced in August, $82 million of the $100 million awarded was directed to questionable reservoir projects. Most notable was a $29 million loan for a reservoir in Paulding County where the existing water system loses 25 percent of its water to leaks and inaccurate water meters—a problem that costs the utility more than $1 million in lost revenue each year.

Rather than helping the utility fix its leaking pipes, the Deal Administration has chosen to spend $29 million to deliver more water to these same pipes. In the private sector, a manager would get fired for such a decision.

The Dirty Dozen report also highlights the sad tale of the state’s Hazardous Waste and Solid Waste Trust Funds, pots of money generated when citizens purchase new tires or dump trash at landfills. The funds are supposed to be used to dispose of scrap tires and clean up industrial sites that are polluting our land, water and air. Since 2004, only $72 million of the $194 million collected under these programs has been used for its stated purpose. The rest has been looted to pay for other parts of the state budget.

In the private sector, that’s fraud, but with our current state government, it’s business as usual.

It’s time these betrayals stopped. Gov. Deal has the power to do that. He can make conservation and efficiency projects eligible for funding under his water supply program and he can insist that fees paid by citizens are used for their intended purpose.

Sweep out the dirty politics and we’ll have a cleaner, healthier state—and a fiscally responsible government. 

To learn more about the Georgia Water Coalition’s Dirty Dozen, visit http://www.garivers.org/gawater.

 

Joe Cook

Executive Director & Riverkeeper

Coosa River Basin Initiative

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