Retrofitting Tax Incentives & Water Update

I appreciate and enjoy the responses I receive from constituents to the e-mail newsletters I send out.  One e-mail that generated a lot of responses was my recent discussion of the water crisis. 

Since the mid-1990s, all newly constructed homes have been required to include water-efficient plumbing fixtures.  There is legislation that was introduced in 2004 and will be introduced again in 2008 to require retrofitting of outdated plumbing fixtures in older homes to new, water-efficient fixtures, at the time of resale of the home.  This “retrofit at resale” legislation stirs up a hornet’s nest of opposition because it is heavy-handed and selective in whom it impacts. 

As an alternative approach, I will introduce two bills for the 2008 legislative session designed to create incentives for retrofitting old plumbing fixtures.  One will be a tax credit, although the amount and form of the credit will need to be ironed out.  The other will add water-efficient products to the current sales tax holiday for energy-efficient products.

Hopefully we all can agree that retrofitting old plumbing fixtures should be highly encouraged.  I would hate to see us come out of the 2008 legislative session without having passed anything that spurs retrofitting, and only having generated a lot of rancor over the “retrofit at resale” legislation.

A couple of constituents disagreed with reducing the water releases from Lake Lanier.  Here is an example:  “Atlanta is just like LA, they would suck every river and stream dry if they could at the expense of others.  Alabama and Florida are as entitled to their share of the water as Georgia.”

I don’t advocate cutting off all water to Alabama, Florida, and downstream endangered species.  If you have looked at the Chattahoochee River recently, you will notice that it is filled to the brim with water.  The rate of water releases from Lake Lanier can be reduced without killing off downstream interests, a fact the Army Corps of Engineers recently confirmed:  “What it comes down to is whether we can reduce the flows enough to still save the species and meet all the users’ needs downstream.  We’re finding now that the power plants and a lot of the other interests can operate at something less than the current flows.”

One constituent hit the nail on the head:  “My wife, dog, and I walk along the Chattahoochee River several times a week.  All summer, we’ve been amazed watching the river.  Who’d know there was a drought based upon how it’s been flowing?  This week, every time we’ve been to the river it’s appeared to be even higher than usual.  I don’t understand how this could be since it hasn’t rained in nearly two weeks and there’s now supposedly some agreement that the Army Corps of Engineers isn’t going to let it all go downstream.  Well, I just checked out the Vinings gauge, and sure enough, the river is higher!”

The federal government continues to release water from Lake Lanier in alarming amounts.  Governor Perdue had reached an agreement with Governor Riley of Alabama, Governor Crist of Florida, and federal officials to reduce the rate of these water releases, but the latest news is that Florida wants to renege on that deal.

We must continue working to reduce the excessive and rapid draining of Lake Lanier, and create new capacity by investing in reservoirs that would be controlled by the state, not by the federal government.

Meanwhile, here in DeKalb County, there rightly should be a great deal of consternation over the county’s insatiable appetite for immense new development projects.  CEO Vernon Jones points his finger at everyone but himself:  “We cannot conserve our way out of this crisis.  Washington and the state have failed to plan.”  Yet, under the Georgia Constitution, zoning, land use, and development are exclusive powers exercised solely by local governments (counties and cities, not the state government).

Commissioner Jeff Rader brings to light an important point:  “Almost 20% of the drinking water produced in DeKalb is unaccounted for — most of that leaks out of the pipes and is lost.  DeKalb should establish a target for lost water that is lower that the regional average of 9%.  This will require costly maintenance and replacement, but is the biggest thing we can do to reduce water waste.”

The county recently raised water rates.  The bulk of this rate increase won’t be used to fix leaks and help homeowners get connected to the sewer system instead of septic, which the county presently charges individual homeowners several thousand dollars to do.  It will be used for water and sewer capacity increases in South DeKalb, further compounding the problem of water consumption.

I am ready to do my part to help alleviate our water woes.  Elected officials at all levels need to focus on the issue.  It’s a complex problem.  There is no single doorstep on which to lay blame, and there is no single solution.  The solutions (plural) will require a combination of increasing our available water sources, better management of existing resources, and conservation measures.

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