Ag water scene "Could get ugly in a hurry..."

January 31, 2008

Albany --   South Georgia Water planners say if the drought continues or worsens next summer, farmers could be ordered by the state not to irrigate their crops. Farmers say that could cripple South Georgia's economy.      

Farmer Jimmy Webb watched the rain fall Thursday, but knows that it's not nearly enough to recharge the Flint River basin and streams, which he uses to irrigate his crops. "That river is my livelihood, and I'm very concerned about it," Webb said.

2007 was the driest year on record according to University of Georgia economic analysts.  They say South Georgia agriculture lost approximately $250 million because of the drought. 

Now, Water Planning officials caution that if the drought worsens, federal regulations to save endangered mussels could have the state EPD telling farmers to stop irrigation.

Flint River Water Planning and Policy Center Director Mark Masters said, "The state wide water planning is coming out. The rumors of the Flint River Protection Act may be implemented in March.  There is a  a lot of uncertainty in the Ag community about what is going to happen with their water."

Economists estimate that 35% of South Georgia's economy is based on agriculture, including tens of thousands of jobs. Webb, also a charter member of the Flint Water Council, says any order to stop or slow irrigation would be terrible.

"Jim, that could get real ugly, real quick.  You are talking about somebody's livelihood.  Who has probably put up all they own as collateral to produce a crop.  That could get ugly in a hurry," Webb said.

No South Georgia farmer has ever been ordered to stop irrigating, and Water Policy leaders say they know the high stakes involved if any such decision would ever made.  For now, they hope more rain keeps coming, and that serious worries about another growing season of drought can be washed away.

The Flint River Water Planning Center reports there are approximately a half million acres of irrigated crop land in South Georgia.