BRADENTON, Fla. — Georgia’s plan to develop statewide alternative drinking water projects funded with $300 million of state general obligation bonds is a credit-positive, according to Moody’s Investors Service.
Moody’s said the positive credit development is based on Gov. Nathan Deal’s recent approval of his Water Supply Task Force’s final report.
That report outlined the kind of projects that could be financed with $300 million of bonds over four years as part of the Republican governor’s water supply program.
Those projects include new and expanded existing reservoirs, wells, water supply planning, reuse, and aquifer storage.
It also suggests using public-private partnerships to help leverage additional funds.
“Deal’s approval will help Georgia local governments tackle their water supply issues, which have been a source of long-term negative credit pressure,” said analyst Lauren Von Bargen in Moody’s weekly credit outlook on Monday.
Water supply has been a hot issue in Georgia for several decades due to drought conditions and ongoing disputes over regional water rights with Alabama and Florida, Von Bargen said.
“Much of the concern stems from projections that current supply levels will be inadequate to meet future demand given significant projected population and economic growth, particularly in the metro-Atlanta area and in coastal regions,” she said.
The population of metropolitan Atlanta grew about 270%, to 5.6 million, from 1970 to 2010, and officials project increasing demand in southern Georgia for agricultural irrigation, according to Von Bargen’s report.
“We believe that both large local governments, such as Atlanta and Augusta, and smaller municipalities, such as those in southern Georgia, will benefit from the water supply program,” she said. “Most Georgia local governments, regardless of size, have adequate if not ample supply for the near to medium term.”
Before recent initiatives, such as creation of the task force, plans for addressing long-term supply were vague, according to Von Bargen.
The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority and the Department of Community Affairs will allocate the $300 million for water supply projects.
The state agencies also plan to counsel local governments on their water supplhy project and help them apply for the state funds.
Deal instructed the agencies to open the Water Supply Program to applicants this month with the goal of making funding awards by summer.
Inaction by some states — including Georgia — to deal with potential drinking-water shortages was the subject of a special study several years ago by Ceres, a national coalition of investors and environmental groups.
Ceres said water supply problems should be a credit factor that bond investors consider.
A number of environmental groups have been critical of Georgia’s planning process, saying that it did not include new conservation programs.