BRADENTON, Fla. — Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal Monday signed SB 122 into law, authorizing the use of public-private partnerships to develop drinking-water supply and related infrastructure projects.
The use of P3s is the cornerstone of the Georgia Public-Private Water Supply Act, sponsored by Sen. Ross Tolleson, R-Perry, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and the Environment Committee.
The new law also allows bond financing to be used in conjunction with P3s.
Though Deal has not signed the state budget into law, the version passed by the General Assembly before it adjourned in mid-April authorizes the sale of up to $46 million of general obligation bonds in fiscal 2012 for water-related projects. The governor has said his goal is to provide a total of $300 million of bonds over the next few years.
Supporters of SB 122, as well as Deal, have said the measure will allow new reservoirs and other water-supply projects to move forward when budgets are tight, and when the Atlanta region faces court-ordered cutbacks in withdrawing its water from Lake Lanier.
“Two years ago, Georgia made structural changes that vastly improved how we go about identifying and constructing reservoirs and other essential water infrastructure,” Deal said when he signed the bill. “The public-private partnership gives local governments the tools they need to take advantage of those changes.”
Deal said providing dependable drinking water supply for Georgia has ranked near the top of his agenda because of how critical it is to health and economic development.
The need to achieve that goal has been underscored by several years of severe drought.
“This legislation is particularly useful at times such as these when budget cutbacks hinder our ability to invest in new infrastructure,” the Republican governor said. “This stretches public dollars by attracting partners to move forward with public works projects that will benefit the citizens of the state for generations.”
Tolleson could not be reached for a comment. In early March he said in an interview that the legislation would give local governments more flexibility.
In addition to SB 122, Tolleson also sponsored SR 15 to create the Joint Committee on Water Supply, which would conduct a comprehensive analysis of the kinds of projects that might qualify for public financing, where facilities are most needed, and additional creative financing options.
SR 15 has not yet been signed by Deal.
Planning for more dependable sources of drinking water supply is also a time-sensitive issue because of a federal judge’s ruling in 2009 that local governments around Atlanta were improperly withdrawing water from Lake Lanier, a federal reservoir. Georgia has appealed the ruling.
The federal case centers on a decades-long debate between Georgia, Florida, and Alabama over regional water-supply rights.
If Georgia’s appeal fails, communities that rely on Lake Lanier will be required to reduce their withdrawals significantly by mid-2012 and find other sources for their drinking water.
Tolleson said the federal suit and the state’s success in using P3s for major transportation endeavors gave him the idea that public-private partnerships could be used to finance water-related infrastructure projects.
His bill allows a local government or several governments to enter contracts up to 50 years with a private developer or consortium to plan, finance, construct, acquire, operate, or maintain water systems, including reservoirs that are a major part of Georgia’s drinking-water complex.
Local governments that use P3s can finance contracts with grants, bond financing, and fees such as retail and wholesale user payments.
The infrastructure needed to serve growth and replace aging systems, could easily cost more than $1 billion over the next 25 years, according to Tolleson.