Georgia Would Disband Soil and Water Conservation Agency, per Gov. Deal’s Budget
The Governor’s budget report for FY 2016 recommends transferring all funding and operations from the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission (GSWCC), to two other state agencies, in order to “consolidate soil and water conservation activities.”
Under the proposal, the agency’s duties would be split, some taken over by the Georgia Department of Agriculture and some by the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
It isn’t clear how the changes would impact the Commission’s current programs and services.
One important conservation tool hanging in the balance is something called the Green Book. It sets industrial standards for preventing runoff from construction sites.
“Most people don’t realize that the number one pollutant in our waterways is dirt,” Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, Executive Director of GreenLaw, told Atlanta Progressive News.
The more dirt, the less oxygen, Benfield explained. With less oxygen, it’s harder for aquatic life to survive, which can have a domino effect on ecosystems and public health. Toxic algae blooms are one potential result of dirt-polluted waterways.
“Georgia’s Green Book has been a model for other states,” Benfield said. “My concern is that, without a stand-alone agency monitoring industrial runoff, we will fall behind.”
Updating the Green Book has already proven to be an arduous process over the past few years, as construction industry representatives have opposed changes to the current standards.
Outside of urban areas, agriculture, rather than construction, is the focus of soil and water conservation efforts.
GSWCC engages farmers in a wide range of programs, from providing mobile irrigation labs that help farmers improve water efficiency, to implementing conservation plans that keep soil healthy and productive, and even working to restore Georgia’s endangered Bobwhite Quail population.
The agency also maintains Georgia’s 357 watershed dams.
GSWCC does take an unfortunate position on GMO labeling, which it opposes. However, overall it plays an important role in fostering environmental stewardship within Georgia’s agricultural industry.
Last year, Gov. Deal proposed similar measures to cut GSWCC’s funding and bring it under the Department of Agriculture. The State House adopted the plan, but it died in the State Senate, in part due to opposition from the state’s largest agricultural organization.
“Georgia Farm Bureau supports funding for GSWCC and its continuation as an independent agency,” the 300,000-member group stated in a newsletter at the time.
Brent Dykes, GSWCC Executive Director, declined to comment.
The Governor’s budget recommendations are currently under review by the House Appropriations Committee.
The Economic Development Subcommittee discussed the proposal to disband GSWCC on Wednesday, February 11, 2015, but no decision was made.