The Stakeholder Advisory Committee (SAC) and the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) members reviewed the agenda for the day and briefly discussed the draft of the Plan Outline that would drive the agenda for the day’s activities. Joe Williams, a member of the SAC and the SAC’s liaison to the TAC, explained the process that was used by the TAC to develop the draft of the Plan Outline. The TAC incorporated ideas and concepts that have been discussed by the SAC at its meetings to date. TAC members and EPD emphasized that the outline was merely a starting point for discussion by the SAC.
Rob McDowell discussed the current backlog of applications at EPD for groundwater irrigation permits, distributing a chart showing application trends. When the October 1999 moratorium on the issuance of agricultural permits began, there were over 2,500 applications that had not been processed. At the end of 1999, a decision was made to locate all of the wells that had been drilled subsequent to making an application but prior to receipt of a permit. Permits have subsequently been issued for those wells. Today, a total of approximately 1,400 applications in Sub-area 4 constitute the current backlog. This decision has been unpopular in many regards, as those applicants who followed protocol precisely have yet to be issued a permit.
Currently, EPD is determining how to diminish the existing backlog of applications in a fair, efficient and objective manner. EPD believes that some or even many of the applications that were submitted may not require action by EPD. In these cases, the need no longer exists, there are duplicate applications, or the applications are for wells for recreational purposes for which no permit may be required. EPD would like the SAC’s guidance on how to most effectively sort the backlog of applications by those that require action and those that do not.
A member of the SAC questioned how field inspection of existing applications could be avoided and asked how the staffing necessary to perform these inspections could be secured. In 2000, EPD conducted field inspections, and several collaborative partners participated in the effort. The Soil and Water Conservation Committee is currently engaged with the task of verifying permitted wells, but they are not a regulatory entity and they likely would be hesitant to allocate resources to this effort. Another SAC member asked about the possible participation of Farm Service Agency in this effort. As a non-regulatory entity, that organization may not be interested in allocating resources to this effort. Additionally, EPD retains the ultimate statutory responsibility and authority to evaluate application.
Dr. Carol Couch, EPD Director, addressed the group and emphasized the importance of having the SAC’s input into how EPD can determine a set of factors or criteria that can be used to reduce the backlog of agricultural applications. A question was asked about the current statute and if the statute requires that a permit be given when the application is presented. Dr. Couch responded by stating that EPD has the responsibility and authority to review and evaluate applications with respect to their intended use. EPD has realized that, in establishing practices, it must encourage people to participate fairly because staff size limits enforcement capabilities. The agricultural permitting staff is currently based in Atlanta, and EPD recognizes that this is not ideal. EPD is working on a plan to relocate agricultural permitting staff to Albany, but this will take some time.
SAC members asked Rob McDowell to share his observations on the division of categories in the draft outline. He responded that EPD finds itself in a difficult situation when it is required to immediately issue a permit without having sufficient time or resources to verify information. In the past, for example, EPD had received and approved a permit request from a landowner who indicated the purpose for the issuance of the permit was for agricultural irrigation. EPD later learned that the applicant was not irrigating crops but had used the well to fill a pond, consequently draining all of his neighbors’ wells.
The group discussed the difference between irrigation permits and general permits and the need to clarify permit categories. There was consensus that the data collection process for both existing and new permits must be improved. In recent years, EPD has acquired better information on 95% of the permits based largely upon the work of NESPAL. Rob emphasized the value of having the SAC provide guidance on how to best identify speculative applications and those that may not require action by EPD. With respect to the issue of un-permitted and permitted users, there are examples of permits that have been issued but a well has not been drilled. There are also examples of duplicate permits, long-term users with no permits, absentee land owners, people who do not respond to regulations and wells that have been drilled after the moratorium was enacted.
The SAC discussed and outlined the following examples of pending application categories:
1. Duplicate Applications
*The applicant did not know that a permit already existed for the well for which an application had been submitted.
2. Belt & Suspenders
* Applications were submitted immediately prior to the implementation of the moratorium in fear that no new permits would be issued at any point in the future.
* Many of these applicants had existing permits but submitted additional permit requests due to concerns that they must ‘get in under the wire’ to allow for future irrigation needs, some of which have never been realized.
3. New Agricultural Use
* Applicants requested additional water to support existing irrigation systems, as existing wells do not have sufficient capacity to meet needs. These include requests for new wells to supply water to existing acreage.
* In contrast, some requests are for wells to establish irrigation systems that involve supplying ‘new water’ to ‘new land’.
* These include permit requests by owners with no actual land on which to drill a well.
* For some of these systems, EPD sent a Letter of Concurrence, but the applicant has not verified that a well has been drilled.
5. New Non-Agricultural Use
* These include permit requests for wells for recreational purposes, not irrigation. Many of these may be requests for four-inch wells, for which a permit is not required.
A SAC member asked about EPD’s authority to fine violators and EPD’s history of issuing fines related to permits. EPD has the authority to issue fines, but to Rob’s knowledge, fines have been issued to well drillers but not to any farmers. EPD strongly desires to maintain good relations in the farming community and a good working relationship; as a result, the agency has not been as heavy-handed as it could have been. EPD has attempted to create a fair, cooperative environment in which most issues can be reconciled voluntarily.
In response to a question about EPD’s staffing, the agricultural unit peaked at a staff of 10. Budget cuts have resulted in reduction of workforce, and currently three staff members are based in Albany and four in Atlanta. One person in Atlanta is strictly allocated to database management, which leaves six people to do field work across the State of Georgia.
Small Group Work and Reports
The SAC discussed recommendations for handling the current backlog of agricultural applications in small groups and reconvened as a whole to discuss ideas. Members expressed concern about the focus on agricultural use and that there did not appear to be an analysis of total water use (including use by non-agricultural users). At present, agricultural use constitutes the vast majority of water use within the Flint River Basin and therefore presents the most imminent concern in regard to water planning.
The ideas presented by each group relative to reducing the existing backlog are as follows:
In the following discussion, the SAC made a general observation that all wells should be permitted to most accurately measure water use statewide.
General discussion following this group report included a question on who makes the decision to lift the moratorium. Dr. Couch responded that EPD (via the Director) has the authority to lift the moratorium. Some SAC members expressed concern that if the moratorium is lifted, current permits may not be protected. Staffing levels at EPD that would be required to manage the permitting process were again discussed.
With respect to duplicate permits, SAC members initially recommended issuing the permit to the land owner. In some cases, site visits will be required to verify duplicate permit situations. Some of the duplicates may be eliminated through the proposed letter and questionnaire system. However, other SAC members noted that, when managing multiple properties as a lessee and dealing with absentee landowners, it may not be most effective to have the permit issued to the landowner. The group recommended that, as a default, the application should be issued to the landowner, but this should not be an absolute requirement. Several SAC members again noted the importance of considering the concept of decentralization as future plans are developed. Additional discussion focused on how GPS reports and technology might be used in the verification process.
Following lunch, the SAC was asked to develop consensus recommendations on reducing the backlog considering information from the morning group reports. The discussion led to the following points:
1. Charge an application fee of $200 for new applicants - funds must support the process, not go into the state’s general fund
2. Verify ownership of property
3. Use location as a decision factor
4. Deny duplicates
5. Verify active applications with certified letters asking applicants to provide information and reiterate their interest in the application. Applicants responding first will receive first priority in the process. Non-respondents will be processed but at a lower priority level.
6. Approve new (and supplemental) agricultural use permits based on location and geography
7. Deny speculative applications according to existing rules
8. Approve non-agricultural uses in general permits. Non-agricultural use should be evaluated and approved if water availability in the immediate area is sufficient. Many recreational uses could likely be satisfied with four-inch wells where a permit would not be required.
SAC members were then asked to discuss which parts of the draft Plan Outline they would like to assume responsibility for, and which parts they would like to delegate to EPD and/or the TAC. SAC members agreed that they would be primarily responsible for developing recommendations under Part 2 of the draft outline, and that the TAC and/or EPD staff would be responsible for Part 1 of the draft outline, including the technical elements of the Plan.
Dwight T. Jenkins, Director of Water Management, St John’s Water Planning District, provided an overview of Florida’s Water Management Program and the District’s activities and permitting requirements. Mr. Jenkins’ presentation regarding the water management districts has been posted to the Flint River Water Management Plan website at http://www.dnr.state.ga.us/dnr/environ/.
The next meeting date was set for Friday, March 18, from 8-2:30 pm in Albany. The meeting will be held at the Riverfront Resource Center located at 125 Pine Avenue and the meeting will be held in the ' Candy Room' on the first floor of the Center. One SAC members indicated that meetings scheduled for the third Friday of the month are difficult, and the facilitation team will work around this in the future. Members will be surveyed via e-mail for their meeting date availability in April, May and June, and those dates will be announced at the next meeting.
Rob McDowell asked the group if their requests for information from EPD and the TAC from the previous meeting had been satisfied. The consensus opinion was that the requests had been appropriately addressed. The SAC was reminded that all members of the stakeholder group are invited to attend the Technical Advisory Meetings. Joe Williams from the Stakeholder Advisory Group has been attending the Technical Advisory Group meetings on a regular basis, but all members are welcome to attend and participate.
The floor was opened to any members of the public to ask questions or make comments. The Director of the Flint River Basin Program advised the group of a meeting of its organization to be held March 2, 2005 in Albany and encouraged members of the Stakeholder Advisory Committee and Technical Advisory Committee to attend if possible. A flyer providing information regarding the meeting was distributed. No other comments from the public were tendered. The meeting adjourned at 2:30 pm.
Meetings will continue to rotate at sites along/near the Flint River, and all meeting dates, times and locations will also be posted on the Flint River Basin Plan website, www.gadnr.org/frbp.
The website and e-mail for the project are as follows:
**Any questions about or corrections to these meeting notes should be directed to Courtney Tobin (706) 542-7149 (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dennis Epps (706) 542-6244 (email@example.com), meeting facilitators, Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia.