ATLANTA – A House committee opted for a resolution that carries no force of law over a specific legal mandate Thursday on the issue of protecting groundwater.

Environmental groups have been pushing for a law to block any storage of surface water in the Floridan Aquifer that supplies most coastal customers. But they accepted the resolution as a start.

The House Natural Resources Committee, with the support of many coastal legislators, voted unanimously for House Resolution 1198 to “encourage” the Environmental Protection Division to review its regulations concerning the storage of surface water in aquifers for later use.

Many environmental and coastal civic groups favored Senate Bill 36, introduced last year by Sen. William Ligon, R-St. Simons Island. The Senate passed it 48-3, but the House committee never acted on it.

Thursday, Committee Chairwoman Lynn Smith said Ligon’s bill is dead because Gov. Nathan Deal signaled he would veto it should it pass. That’s because EPD officials want to keep aquifer storage as a possible option.

Smith said even for her committee to consider Ligon’s proposal would be too complicated for the remaining 25 days of the current legislative session because its wording could alter all of the state’s water policy. So, instead, she authored the resolution as a way to prompt EPD to hold public hearings.

“This is a very important first step,” she said.

After the meeting, Ligon characterized it the same way.

“I encourage the EPD to pick it up, and let’s start work on the regulations to protect our water,” he said. “I see this as a step in the right direction.”

But environmental groups had hoped for more.

“We really want to see more protection for groundwater through regulation,” said Gil Rogers with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The EPD’s Assistant Director Mary Walker told the committee before the vote fears of surface water contaminating the aquifer are overblown.

“EPD doesn’t support the concept of a moratorium. We think it would be unnecessary and unwise to take that option off the table,” she said. “We believe that we can regulate it in a manner that would be protective of public health and the environment.”

EPD officials have said they want the ability to pump water into the aquifer in hopes the pressure would push against saltwater that is beginning to intrude into the aquifer. South Carolina has seen considerable saltwater intrusion, and the Deal administration fears that state could sue Georgia to stop accepting new industry as a way to slow aquifer withdrawals that contribute to saltwater seepage.

If Smith’s resolution eventually passes the House and Senate, there is no timetable for EPD to conduct hearings or even a requirement they be held.

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