Highlights of Meeting on January 18, 2016
Mike Buckel, HCPOA board member, lead the program, a presentation on the Corps of Engineers recent rule change covering water withdrawals and irrigation permitting for private property owners.
Mike welcomed all attending and recognized the following special guests:
U.S Representative Doug Collins,
Corps Operations Project Manager George Bramlette,
Ms. Sandy Campbell, Corps Natural Resources Program Manager,
Joel Katz, District Director at the Office of Congressman Collins;
Frank Redmond, representing U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s office;
Andrew Seaver, representing U.S. Senator David Perdue;
And Mr. Herb Burnham, Executive Director of the Lake Hartwell Association.
Sheriff Cleveland briefly addressed those attending suggesting a need to calmly exercise our right to appeal grievances through government channels before excusing himself as he was “on duty” that evening.
Mike Buckel began by citing several facts employing power point slides:
1. Effective January 1, 2016, the Corps has revoked lake water withdrawals by residential property owners for all reservoirs within the Corps South Atlantic Region as they are not “authorized” by Congress to do so. A permitted owner may continue to irrigate until the expiration of their current permit.
2. Lake Hartwell water belongs to the States of Georgia and South Carolina; not the federal government.
3. Currently there are approximately 2,660 irrigation permits on Lake Hartwell.
4. The amount of water withdrawn by Hartwell permit holders is trivial as compared to Corps water releases.
5. There are no restrictions on withdrawals by municipal water systems; thus those with access to these systems could very well be withdrawing the same water.
6. This was an arbitrary cancellation of permit holders’ right to irrigate.
Concluding, Mike urged everyone to write their local, State, and national representatives to rectify the ruling. He welcomed Corps Manager, George Bramlette, who gave a brief overview of management practices covering the 5 South Atlantic Districts. He noted the Corps does not operate independently but is subject to congressional authorizations and regulations. Primarily, these include river basin flood control, power generation, navigation, water quality, fish and wildlife, and recreation. Hartwell has the largest shoreline management program in the nation. The Corps did allow certain privileges in the past years; but, recently during a review of issues brought about by the Tri State water dispute, it has been determined that current federal regulations do not allow them to permit or authorize lake withdrawals on any scale by residential property owners. Only industrial and municipal entities are allowed allocation contracts. Concluding, he noted Resource Program Manager, Sandy Campbell, has had 5 weeks at an Atlanta office task group studying the management consequences of this ruling.
Ms. Campbell emphasized the retraction of residential permitting is “not a discretionary policy but an authority issue.” She agreed the retraction is not about the quantity of water used by residential permitting and commented that this change was not something their Division requested. She referenced the Tri State litigation and their scrutiny of stake holders’ water usage as the States owned the water and each State’s specific entitlement. Further, she stated during the Tri State investigations they determined the Corps did not have the authority to allow residential permitting. Congress gave the Corps a legal way to allow industrial and municipal users by reallocation of the original Congressional mandate through approved water contracts. Sandy concluded by answering a few audience questions and would address additional questions at meeting end.
Speaking next, Rep. Doug Collins stressed the good job our local Corps representatives do. But there is and has been a problematic relation with the Corps throughout the United States resulting from ever changing Corps military governance. He emphatically stated this was an arbitrary decision by the Corps. He continued advising the 9th District covers most of the head waters of Corps jurisdiction but there are constantly changing and differing parameters for these lake regions. Because of this he and other congressmen started the Corps of Engineer caucus to deal with the lack of honest and confusing responses by Corps officials to problems. He stated Congress sets Corps policy and budgets and queried why Congress did not know the Corps was rescinding water withdrawal privileges. He questioned
1. Why the Tri State water wars were instrumental now in this decision when they were 25 years old;
2. Why no one in the DC office contacted Congress to request an adjustment to their mandate;
3. Why the lack of public hearings;
4. Why other State government officials were not notified of this rescindment.
Summing, Rep. Collins said the withdrawal change was a unilateral decision with no transparency and he promised to work for the 9th District and Georgia to reverse this ruling.
Frank Redmond and Andrew Seaver each pledged their offices’ support to repeal the Corps regulation. A lively question and answer period followed the guests’ comments.