Georgia’s Regional Water Plans: Recommendations for Implementation

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Faulkner, Chris
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State and local governments engage in many types of planning activities whose goals may differ widely in scale and purpose. These plans may range from regional transportation plans, to state economic development plans, to local land-use plans, to neighborhood redevelopment plans. Like many other states, Georgia has developed plans for a variety of purposes, including plans aimed at environmental protection. One of Georgia’s primary environmental planning efforts during the last two decades has focused on water. In 2008, the Georgia General Assembly adopted the Georgia State-wide Water Management Plan (SWP). The SWP provides a comprehensive framework for water planning in Georgia. This framework includes directives for assessing water resources, forecasting public water needs, stakeholder involvement, regional planning, and others. One of the major purposes of the SWP is to provide for the development of water plans that are tailored to specific regions within the state. Region-specific plans are intended to ensure statewide coordination and also acknowledges both political and watershed boundaries (State Water Plan, 2008). Regional Water Plans have been under development in Georgia since March 2009 and are scheduled for completion and adoption by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) in September 2011. The SWP is intended to guide state agencies, EPD in particular, to in their development of Regional Water Plans. One area of planning not specifically addressed within the SWP, however, is plan implementation. The implementation phase of planning has long been viewed as a major weakness of the planning process; indeed, mention of implementation is scarce throughout planning literature (Berke et al., 2006). The SWP mentions implementation of large-scale policies at the state level, but speaks little to plan implementation by local governments other than to recommend coordination between state and local efforts. This may prove to be short sighted given the critical role local governments play in water resource protection and planning (Kellogg, 1997). Failing to specifically guide plan implementation in local governments might prove even more detrimental in home-rule states such as Georgia, where local governments can self determine, among other issues, both growth and land-use. In order for Regional Water Plans to function as effective tools for water management in Georgia, successful implementation is critical. The objective of this paper is to provide a framework, as well as recommendations for implementing Regional Water Plans at the state and local levels. This paper will also attempt to provide a structure for coordination between various state, regional, and local entities within the context of implementation. To complete this paper, a number of research methodologies have been employed including literature searches, personal interviews, and review of state and local water plans. Interviews were conducted with a variety of individuals from state, regional, and local governments. Given the scope of this paper, a specific Regional Water Plan and several local governments were selected to conduct a case study. The focus of this paper will be on the Suwannee-Satilla Initial Regional Water Plan, which encompasses Lowndes County, the City of Valdosta, and the City of Hahira. This paper is intended to provide recommendations to serve as a starting point for implementation of this and other Regional Water Plans within Georgia.
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