Thursday, December 17, 2015

Omnibus holds potential to threaten Georgia water rights

The Omnibus spending bill model Congress used to fund the country is an abomination. But at times it's more an abomination than at other times. And at times, an Omnibus can be used to threaten everyday things you take for granted.

Take water, for instance.

I heard yesterday that Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama is  weaving language into the Omnibus that might be used to threaten part of Georgia's present water supply.  Battles over water rights along watershed basins that Georgia, Alabama and Florida share have fueled ongoing feuds between the three states for more than two decades.

So far, the only thing I've found is a Shelby release where Shelby wants more study on oyster aquaculture, and some other gulf coast eco-studies. Shelby says such studies would be funded as part of Omnibus.

I've also heard members of Georgia's congressional delegation are aware of Shelby's  additions, and believes they give potential to diminish greater Atlanta's available water supply.

But, if Congressional leadership steps in, and assists Georgia in countering whatever threat Shelby's move presents, this might give congressional leadership clout to coerce Georgia's delegation into support for Omnibus as otherwise written, an Omnibus bill opposed by many of the delegation's constituents.

Ironically, while touting its coastal study additions, Sen. Shelby also claims to oppose Omnibus in present form, and seeks revisions to the Syrian refugee program as presently included.

While conservatives in Georgia may cheer Shelby's push to restrict and amend Syrian resettlement, they likely have no idea Omnibus, as amended by Sen. Shelby, has potential to snatch a big share of their drinking (and toilet flushing) water somewhere not too far down the road.

It's a tangled web  weaved in Washington, and an Omnibus spending bill helps hide a lot of it. Things like how a senator who professes to oppose Omnibus may actually be using it to further one state's agenda over another, giving us  just one glimpse of how an Omnibus game can be played.

Related: Florida Senator (and Republican presidential contender) Marco Rubio also advocates a larger share of Chattahoochee basin water for Florida and Alabama. Rubio backs "protections" for those states in "any forthcoming appropriations bill moving through Congress."

Update: The AJC picks up on the story, with deeper detail.

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