Judson Turner was tapped by Governor Nathan Deal to serve as Georgia’s first “water czar.” While carrying out this new charge, Turner continues to serve as Director of the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, a role he has held since January 2012. The idea behind the creation of the new water czar position was not to displace the work of existing agencies, but rather to create an office that is empowered to quarterback and coordinate the work of these agencies and the overall state response to the ongoing tri-state water wars with Florida and Alabama. “The U.S. Supreme Court case filed by Florida against Georgia over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) Basin has placed significant new demands on state agencies involved in these matters,” said Deal in a recent press release announcing Turner’s appointment. “Add to this the renewed litigation against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over additional water supply from Lake Allatoona, and the workload requires the state to take additional steps to assure we have the right staff in place. Jud is a subject matter expert with years of experience in the water wars; he is the right person to lead this effort, a task incredibly important to the well-being of our state’s people and its economy.” Turner is responsible for the oversight and management of the state’s multipronged efforts to increase water supply, including developing and implementing policies for reasonable and sustainable use and reuse of water resources. In addition, Turner is responsible for coordinating and supporting the state’s litigation team. Turner’s role also includes coordination among various local stakeholders and constituencies, as well as multiple state agencies, state and regional authorities, and local governments. Prior to accepting the position of EPD Director, Turner served as Executive Counsel to former Governor Sonny Perdue. In this capacity, he served as the governor’s legal representative in negotiations with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service regarding drought operations at the federal reservoirs of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) and Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) river basins. He also served both Perdue and Deal as Special Executive Counsel in negotiations between the states of Alabama, Georgia and Florida related to the ACF and ACT basins and provided counsel on matters involving Georgia’s other shared river basins. Prior to his public service, Turner practiced law at Bradley Arant Rose & White LLP law firm in Birmingham, where his practice focused primarily on general commercial litigation. He also was a founding partner in his own law firm, Turner, Bachman & Garrett LLC. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia, graduating Phi Beta Kappa with highest honors in political science and economics and his law degree from the University of Virginia. The editors of Engineering Georgia recently had the distinct honor of sitting down with Judson Turner, and this is what we learned about Georgia’s new water czar and his plans for the state… JT – We are at an exciting and innovative time right now with the Governor’s Water Supply Program, and I really give the Governor credit for having the vision. Perhaps most innovative is having the state participate, not in every local reservoir, but site-specific. For municipal and industrial [M&I] use, water supplies have traditionally been the responsibility of local governments and authorities. Through the Governor’s Water Supply Program, the state is participating to ensure that projects in certain choice sites are designed with multiple purposes in mind. For example, instead of simply serving a local population for drinking water or M&I use, we might look at a facility’s potential to release water in times of drought – making it an augmentation facility. This would involve different ways of working with the Corps of Engineers and others. We are in the beginning stages of making these changes. This is a very exciting initiative for our state. As for the other items mentioned, aquifer storage and recovery is basically what we call an alternative to reservoirs below the fall line. Below the fall line reservoirs are hard to build. They are expensive, you have to dig them out deeper and there is a higher evaporative loss. Instead, we can follow the example set by several other states and explore the ability to take some of the water that is running off and heading to the ocean during times of plenty and redirect it underground into aquifers. When needed, we can then pull that water back up from the aquifers. That technology is very site-specific, so we need to be careful about how we do that. There are water quality concerns and issues related to chemical formations in the aquifers that can come into play if you are not careful, so EPD has an important role in permitting. Aquifer storage and recovery is being looked at in different places. We may need it on the coast due to salt-water intrusion and some of the limitations we have on the use of the Floridia aquifer. We currently have a demonstration project underway in Baker County through the Governor’s Water Supply Program to study its viability in the southwest part of the state. With regard to reuse, I cannot stress enough how important this is. I am seeing big investments made all over the metro area where we return an average of 70 percent of the water we withdraw back into the system. We predict that this number will continue to rise over time to a projected return rate of up to 78 percent. But reuse is not cheap and getting that water back to big federal storage facilities is better than just getting it back to the rivers. That requires even more money because of conveyance costs and because the water quality has to be even higher to do that. We are continuing a dialogue with the Army Corps of Engineers regarding one of the biggest problems we have right now, which is crediting those return flows. The incentives are all wrong, and the Corps of Engineers in Georgia’s reservoirs do not credit that return flow like you would think they would. Currently, if you have a water supply contract with the Corps and you get that water back to the lake, it is treated as basin inflow. It is not credited to the storage account of the entity that paid for the treatment and the conveyance to get it back. That makes it really difficult and we on the regulatory side want to see the credits happen. It’s an almost no-brainer on the public policy side because once that water is back in the storage facility, we can spend it another day. That’s whether it’s a release for downstream needs or pulled from the lake directly. If you don’t credit that return flow, then the incentives will not be there for local governments and authorities to get that water back to the lake. Let’s talk about other conservation measures. We continue to see really good results on conservation in the metro [Atlanta] area and in other pockets. The Stewardship Act of 2010 passed at the state level had a number of features to it like sub-metering, low flow toilet features, requirements for new construction and outdoor watering restrictions, even in times of plenty. Through those measures, combined with conservation pricing, we are seeing some real significant savings. By continuing to do those sorts of things, we project that those gallons per capita numbers for the metro area will decrease. We are proud of that record, but we need to continue to be good stewards of our resources. Historically, we have often talked about water quality and water quantity separately. However, they really are inseparable. The amount of water often needed for assimilation of waste load [waste allocation to rivers] connects your water quality needs and water quantity needs. Atlanta and other municipal entities spend significant dollars on things like the combined sewer system, storm water runoff and green infrastructure to ensure water quality benefits in our urban areas, but there is a return on investment there. The more you protect the water quality on the front end, the less you have to spend to treat it on the backend. Of course, you also see water quantity benefits because you don’t have to unnecessarily pass flow for water quality needs. In short, there is no silver bullet. We have to do all of these things and more in the coming years. I am excited. We have great leadership at the state level with both the Governor’s vision on his water supply program and the innovative projects in which that program allows us to target and invest. EG - What can the engineering industry do to take a leading role in formulating some of these creative approaches? JT – Whether it is at the association level or individually, I think that engineers understand probably better than anyone what’s going to be involved in the technical and practical aspects of what we are trying to do. Engineers can participate locally in making sure that your communities and elected leadership understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch. Much like we see our discussion around transportation infrastructure, we have to make water investments. Nothing is going to tie into economic development like the availability and use of good, clean water. It is vital to be active at the local level. Take conservation pricing, for instance. It takes local leadership to have conservation pricing in place, which would raise rates the more water you use. That’s not popular, but it’s necessary to steward the resource. We also have to make investments in maintenance and operation of our systems. The Water Stewardship Act had a key feature about water loss audits. Sometimes we like to think about new projects, but truthfully, water utilities and authorities should be making investments in the maintenance and operation. It is in their financial interest to do so, but often doesn’t occur. Because engineers would really understand better than lay people, making local municipalities and the general public aware of things like this would really go a long way. While the state plays an active role in all of this, we can’t do it all on our own. An engineering and business community that understands - and is helping all layers of government in the state to understand - is a very good thing. EG - Will public-private partnerships be utilized as a way to build and finance some of this new water infrastructure? JT – There has been a lot of discussion around public-private partnerships in water. I think the delay required in the Corps’ 404 permitting process has made that a hard thing to see come to fruition. There was a bill passed some years ago that really tried to jumpstart the notion, and I think it is still possible in any given deal. There is nothing to stop a public-private partnership from happening. The permitting delay creates some challenges, but if I were reading a crystal ball, the place we would be more likely to see public-private partnerships would be in the operation of the facilities, not necessarily in the construction and funding of them. I could be wrong on this. In addition to the permitting delay, we haven’t seen public-private partnerships on a full-scale due, in part, to very reasonable rates and what is available in financing these facilities to the public sector. I am not sure from a financing standpoint that the private entities can do any better. There may still be all sorts of quasi arrangements that involve not just turning over the construction and operation to a private entity, but solely the operations. However, Georgia’s law certainly allows for it and there is great openness to it. EG – How can the engineering industry help EPD, whether it be by educating our clients or the public, or ways we can improve our interface with the division? JT – This is a great question. A lot of times, EPD is placed in the middle between different environmental/ngo (nongovernmental organizations) groups and industry groups that have very passionately held views, and are oft en on opposite ends of the spectrum. Education is the right word. Th ese issues are complex; they require great balance. As the chief environmental regulator of the state, we are the governmental entity that is tasked with that balance statutorily. We are told to balance environmental protection and economic stability, and we do that to the best of our ability. However, it really helps when engineers who work for clients that are building projects – such as a new landfill, water project, or plant that has air emissions - understand that the work we do is not only legally required, it also encompasses what we all want as Georgians: clean air, clean water and healthy handling of waste and disposal. I think just helping us strike that balance and doing it in a way that is defensible is going to be better. When the EPD does its job, there will be a little grousing on both sides, but a little grousing and missing the mark are two different things. We understand that we have a regulatory function, and we are cognizant that we have a responsibility to the people of Georgia. Th at isn’t limited to just the taxpayers in general or our children and grandchildren, but extends to the folks who are trying to put food on the table and have growing concerns. We take that seriously, but ours is a regulatory role. I think furthering knowledge and understanding of the role that EPD has to play helps us all.
Published by American Council of Engineering Companies of Georgia. View All Articles.