Meter Data Show Georgia Farmers Using Water Responsibly

Data the state of Georgia has collected on farmers’ water use since 2004 show farmers are responsibly using water to irrigate their crops, Mark Masters, director of the Georgia Water Planning and Policy Center at Albany State University told Georgia Farm Bureau Commodity Conference attendees.

“Georgia farmers do a good job of responsibly using Georgia’s water resources, Masters says. “The vast majority of acreage we’ve mapped in the field is metered and irrigated using efficient, low pressure irrigation systems.”

water flow meters georgia
Propeller-type water meters are being installed in Georgia in response to state House Bill 579 — image courtesy University of Georgia

Masters says the good story about Georgia’s ag water use is backed up by the numbers the meters and mapping efforts provide. Data collected by the Georgia Water Planning and Policy Center through field verification of thousands of irrigation systems across the state demonstrate a high level of water efficiency in irrigation equipment and management practice.

Water Meter Requirements

Under the ag water metering program established by the Georgia General Assembly in 2003, ag water withdrawal permits issued before Dec. 31, 2002, are eligible for state-funded meters. Farmers with water permits issued after 2002 are required to buy and install a meter at their own expense.

Gov. Nathan Deal established the Agriculture Permitting Compliance Task Force in October 2016 and transferred responsibility of the ag metering program from the Georgia Soil & Water Conservation Commission to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Agriculture representatives on the compliance task force include Georgia Farm Bureau President Gerald Long, GFB Ninth District Director Lucius Adkins, University of Georgia Stripling Irrigation Research Park Superintendent Calvin Perry and UGA Water Resource Management & Policy Specialist Gary Hawkins.

In 2016, the task force recommended the Environmental Protection Division finish installing water meters on any remaining permitted water withdrawal points eligible for a state-funded meter. The GWPPC has been subcontracted to conduct site assessments and collect other relevant data to inform purchase and installation of meters at active withdrawal sites.

Masters thanked the ag community for its support of metering and encouraged them to remain engaged. He notes that while the state is responsible for installing, maintaining and capturing annual data from water meters, farmers and landowners play a key role in the overall success of the program.

“The farmers we meet in the field day in and day out have been extraordinarily helpful,” Masters says. “They know the importance of water to their operations, and understand the value of getting the data right.”

The Environmental Protection Division notifies landowners with water permits via mail if a meter or meters need to be installed on their property. Private companies with which the state has contracted to install the meters also notify affected permit holders before the anticipated installation date. The division anticipates contracting with the Georgia Forestry Commission to perform annual water meter readings across the state beginning this fall.

Water Use Reporting

Georgia House Bill 579 prevents the ag water use information of an individual permit holder from being released; however, the division can release basin-wide water use information presented in summary form. This data will help statewide water planning efforts by providing improved water demand estimates and resource assessments.

“We took a large step forward in our knowledge of ag water use from the first round of water planning in 2009 through 2011 to the plans updated early last year,” Masters says. “We’re continuing to refine and improve, and that’s ultimately a good thing for the state and those that rely on its water resources.”

A topic of discussion among attendees at the commodity conference was the ongoing water lawsuit with Florida. The U.S. Supreme Court sent the case back to a special master for further consideration in the 5-4 opinion issued in June.

In writing the dissenting opinion for the four judges who disagreed with the majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas referenced experts Drs. Robert Stavins and Phillip Bedient who have shown Georgia’s total water use amounts to just 4 percent of basin flows in an average year and 8 percent in a dry year.

This allows 92 to 96 percent of the basin water to flow into Florida.

“According to Georgia’s experts, the primary factor that dictates flows in the Apalachicola River is precipitation, not consumption,” Thomas wrote, citing Charles A. Menzie.

Reprinted from the Georgia Farm Bureau Ag News.

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