Meeting Summary: Upper Flint Council January 11, 2017

Meeting Summary

Upper Flint Regional Water Council Meeting

Flint Energies Headquarters – Reynolds, GA

January 11, 2017

Welcome, Introductions, Chairman's Discussion

Upper Flint Council Chair Donald Chase thanked the members for attending the meeting. He introduced new member, Fred Granitz. Council members then introduced themselves. Kristin Rowles (GWPPC) reviewed the meeting agenda and objectives.

Groundwater Availability Assessment Results

Glen Behrend and Dr. Jim Kennedy (GAEPD) then reviewed the results from the groundwater availability resource assessment results (slides available, summary results distributed in pre-meeting packet). Topics discussed included groundwater resource availability under current and projected demands as well as additional groundwater studies recently completed on the Claiborne Aquifer. It was noted that transient modeling that will evaluate the impacts of withdrawals to consider variation within a year (seasonality) is underway, but will not be complete before June. Council discussion on the groundwater resource assessment addressed the following:

  • A Council member asked for clarification about what the updated groundwater modeling addresses.
    • Dr. Kennedy said that the model results were updated to incorporate the new water demand estimates and forecasts and in some cases to expand upon and refine the previous modeling effort.
  • A Council member asked if the model accounts for periods of extreme drought.
    • Dr. Kennedy said that the model was run using water demands from a dry year, but not from a period of extreme drought. It was also done using a steady state (average) approach. GAEPD is in the process of completing a more refined transient model to investigate the sustainable yield of the Claiborne accounting for seasonal variation in demand.
    • The Council member commented that the Council should consider management practices that account for extreme drought conditions.
  • A Council member requested more explanation on the potential impacts of replacing surface water withdrawals with groundwater withdrawals.
    • Dr. Kennedy said that steady-state modeling indicates that some transfer of surface water withdrawals will not harm resources, but consideration of seasonal effects is needed and will be addressed by transient modeling for the Claiborne. 
  • A Council member asked about how the resource assessment analyses conducted for the Upper Floridan aquifer system in South Central Georgia and the Dougherty Plain should be considered in relationship to the Upper Flint Council region.  Both of those assessments incorporated counties that are part of the region.
    • Each of the sustainable yield estimates applies to the whole modeled area.  A site-specific analysis would be needed to estimate the water availability in a portion of the modeled area.

Surface Water Availability Resource Assessment Results

Glen Behrend and Dr. Wei Zeng (GAEPD) next reviewed the results from the surface water availability resource assessment results (slides available, summary results distributed in pre-meeting packet). Topics discussed included a review of the surface water assessment methods and assessment results for both current and projected future water demands. Kristin Rowles said that the Council could see its impact on the resource assessment process through the incorporation of agricultural irrigation water meter data and farm pond storage, more detailed evaluation of aquifers that might be relied on more heavily as alternative water supplies in the future, and the addition of the Carsonville node to the model.

Council discussion on the surface water resource assessment addressed the following:

  • A Council member asked if the model included any augmentation of flows from upstream Flint River municipal reservoirs.
    • Dr. Zeng said that while the upstream Flint River municipal reservoirs and their water supply operations are incorporated into the surface water model, no flow augmentation from those municipal reservoirs was assumed for the resource assessment.  These and other scenarios can be addressed during the gap analysis and management practice evaluation phase of the planning process. 
  • Dr. Zeng and Brian Bandy (ARCADIS) provided additional clarification on the assumptions made regarding farm ponds in the surface water assessment. Farm ponds were not assumed to be used for flow augmentation but rather as a means to offset some amount of direct stream withdrawals for agriculture. Farm ponds in the basin were categorized with respect to their likelihood of use for irrigation.  Also, it was assumed that ponds were only refilled once during a growing season. These assumptions about farm pond use were conservative for the purposes of the resource assessment. The assessment showed that the modeled use of farm ponds reduces the flow gap at Bainbridge, but the impact was small. Additional work on farm pond assumptions is needed for assessments done in the future.
  • Council members asked how GAEPD uses the updated information from the water use forecasts and assessments.
    • Glen Behrend said that GAEPD uses the updated resource assessment information to broadly inform permitting decisions.  He said that it has not really changed the number of permits that are active to date.
  • A Council member asked if “amenity ponds” are included in the surface water resource assessment assumptions.
    • Dr. Zeng reported that GAEPD is aware of a recent graduate student study documenting ponds in the Flint Basin (Ignatius, 2009), but that no specific assumptions incorporating that data were included in the surface water resource assessment.
    • Cliff Lewis (GAEPD) clarified that GAEPD does not permit farm ponds but rather permits agricultural withdrawal from farm ponds.
  • Responding to a question, Brian Bandy clarified that there was no specific threshold for including farm ponds in the assessment. All farm ponds that were considered actively used for irrigation or likely to be actively used for irrigation were included regardless of size.
  • A Council member noted that there is a new stream gage at the Highway 36 bridge and asked whether it could provide an additional model node.
    • There is not a model node at each gage in the region. Model nodes have been placed at gages that have long periods of record. If this particular site would be important in addressing specific Council questions, its data could be analyzed. There are over 300 stream gages across the state and approximately 30 in the Flint River Basin.
  • A Council member questioned what assumptions on future climate variability, particularly extreme drought events, are included in the assessment.
    • Dr. Zeng reported that GAEPD has access to data on scenarios related to future climate variability, but the data has not been incorporated into the current modeling. Its time step is not conducive for inclusion in the surface water resource assessment at this time.

Updates on Water Resource Topics and Planning Items in Region

Glen Behrend (GAEPD) reported that the trial phase of the Florida v. Georgia Supreme Court litigation (Florida v. Georgia No. 142 Original) is complete, and the Special Master’s opinion is pending. A final ruling from the full Supreme Court is not anticipated until at least late 2017. He noted that the timeframe for regional water planning process will not be modified based on the schedule for the case. The timing of a final decision and implementation of that decision are uncertain. If there is an outcome to the litigation that requires modifications to the regional plans, changes can be considered at the appropriate time. Council member discussion addressed the following:

  • A Council member asked if the existing regional water plans have helped to support Georgia’s case.
    • Glen Behrend said that regional water planning is a great example of careful resource stewardship on behalf of Georgia.
  • A Council member asked whether the testimony in the case was focused on agricultural water use.
    • Cliff Lewis said that it was one area of focus. He then described to the Council the ongoing work of the Agricultural Permitting Compliance Task Force, which is due to make a report to the legislature soon. Mr. Lewis also reported that the Agricultural Metering Program has been moved from the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission to GAEPD.

Vision and Goals

Kristin Rowles reminded the Council that it had created a Vision and Goals Committee at its April 2016 meeting to work on any needed revisions.  She said that the committee had recently reviewed the suggestions for revisions to the Vision and Goals raised by Council members during the preparation of the 2015 Review and Revision Priorities report.

Regarding the Vision statement, Council members had expressed concern that it seems to assume that the Council will play a direct role in implementation. However, given the Council’s experience with the planning and implementation process over the past seven years, some Council members felt the language should be modified to reflect its role in supporting implementation instead.  The 2011 Vision Statement read:

The Upper Flint Regional Water Council’s purpose is to provide guidance, leadership and education on water resource utilization within the region. Through cooperation among stakeholders, this plan will assist the Council's efforts to manage the region's water resources in a sustainable manner, be supportive of public health and natural ecosystems, support the State's economy and enhance the quality of life for its citizens.

Kristin had suggested that the committee consider the following revised statement to address the concern about implementation roles (changes marked in red):

The Upper Flint Regional Water Council’s purpose is to provide guidance, leadership and education on water resource utilization within the region. Through cooperation among stakeholders, implementation of the Council’s plan will support sustainable management of the region’s water resources, benefit public health and natural ecosystems, support the State’s economy, and enhance the quality of life for its citizens.

Kristin said that the committee members supported the adoption of this revision as proposed. Following a motion by Dick Morrow and a second by Jack Holbrook, the Council approved the revised Vision Statement by consensus.

For the goals, the committee discussed whether to make the goals more measurable. Kristin said that to address this suggestion, she reviewed the goals of all ten regional water councils. She said that the other councils also have goals that are generally not measurable. Instead, the goals are broad statements of principle to guide planning in all of the regional water plans from 2011. She said that the Council could still choose to change their goals to be more measurable. However, she pointed out that measurability is a focus of the plan benchmarks in Section 8. She asked the committee members to share their views on their discussion of this issue. While one noted a preference to more measurability in any goal, they generally agreed that no changes were needed to the goals at this time. The Council members had no objections to leaving its goals unchanged at this time.

Lunch Break

Project Report: Water Supply Alternatives for Surface Water Agricultural Irrigators in Ichawaynochaway Sub-Basin and Discussion of Relevance of Results to Plan Update

Mark Masters and Doug Wilson (GWPPC) then provided the Council a report on a work related groundwater source alternatives for agricultural surface water irrigators in the Ichawaynochaway Basin (slides available). The project was done with the support of a regional water plan implementation seed grant, and it addresses a recommendation in the plans of the Middle Chattahoochee, Upper Flint, and Lower Flint-Ochlockonee Councils. In general, the study has indicated that there is potential to replace some surface water withdrawals with groundwater sources in the region, but additional research on site specific conditions and potential impacts would need to be evaluated and considered. An alternative approach to transferring surface water irrigators to groundwater might be to offset surface water withdrawals with groundwater sourced augmentation. This approach could avoid the cost for re-configuring irrigation systems and connections to their source water supply. Council member discussion on the presentation addressed the following:

  • A Council member asked if there was an estimate of the amount of surface water withdrawals that could be transferred or offset.
    • Mr. Wilson said that such an analysis has not been completed at this time.
  • A Council member asked if it is possible to measure drawdown for individual agricultural wells.
    • Mr. Wilson said that measuring drawdown of existing individual wells would likely be cost-prohibitive, but that estimates of regional drawdown can be made from potentiometric surface estimated by USGS recording wells. He also offered drawdown measurement can be incorporated into the installation of new wells relatively inexpensively compared to the cost of doing so for existing wells.  

Plan Update: Priorities, Schedule, and Process

Kristin Rowles next reviewed the process and agenda for completing the draft revised Upper Flint Regional Water Plan by the end of March (slides available). The following is the schedule of meetings.

  • January 11th Meeting: Surface Water and Groundwater Availability
    • Followed by Plan Revisions
  • February 7th Meeting: Water Quality and Other
    • Followed by Plan Revisions
  • March 22nd Meeting: Approve Review Draft
    • Followed by Public Review
  • June Meeting: Final Plan Approval

She discussed the major plan elements to be reviewed and revised, as follows:

MAJOR PLAN ELEMENTS – REVIEW & REVISION

Vision and Goals

Section 1

Approve April 2016 revisions (Feb meeting)

Forecasts and Resource Assessments

Sections 3, 4,  & 5

Revise to reflect updates in technical information

Management Practices

Section 6

Review and revise at January and February meetings

Recommendations

Section 7.4

Other Content

Sections 2, 7 & 8

Revise based on changes to Management Practices and updated technical information

Kristin reviewed the Council’s priorities for the review and revision process. She noted the possible need for committee work to meet the planning timeline. She said that she will be sending plan revisions based on today’s discussions for Council consideration at the next Council meeting. Given the tight schedule, the next pre-meeting packet may not be available a full two weeks in advance of the February meeting, but Kristin said that it will be provided as early as possible.

Small Group Discussions – Review of Priority Management Practices and Recommendations

Next, Kristin asked the Council members to divide into small groups to discuss possible revisions to areas of the plan that relate to today’s presentations regarding surface water and groundwater availability. These groups focused on Management Practices (Section 6) and Recommendations to the State (Section 7.4).  Hand-outs of these sections were provided for the small group discussions.

Kristin said that the group facilitators have notes on areas of these sections to focus on based on the Council’s 2015 Revision and Revision Priorities Report, 2014 Implementation Assessment Report, the updated resource assessment results, and recent Council discussions. The objective for the break-out group discussions was to get input on how to modify these parts of the plan. The input will provide guidance to the consultant team to draft revisions. Council decisions on the revisions will be taken up at the next meeting.

The first group focused on the Management Practices in Section 6.  Based on the small group discussion, the following will be the main areas of focus for revisions for the Council to consider:

  • Update the Management Practices to reflect policy changes since 2011 (e.g., Flint River Drought Protection Act, drought management rules, revised WCM).
  • Modify the Water Quantity Management Practices that include the terms Tier 1 through Tier 4 to describe conservation measures. It would be preferable to avoid the use of these terms, which rely on reference to another document.
  • Delete Management Practice DM-3 and consider adding a new management practice focused more on public education to promote these conservation practices.
  • For Management Practice SF-1, add “continue to evaluate” and strengthen the language on appointing a study commission.
  • Update Management Practice SF-2 with information from the augmentation project on Spring Creek and the seed grant project reported on today.
  • Consider deleting Management Practice SF-4 on ASR. At a minimum, update to include pilot project results, which were not encouraging.
  • Consider changes to the Management Practice about farm ponds to reflect the modeling that included farm ponds. At least one Council member said not to substantially change this Management Practice (SF-5).
  • Update the information on the extent of land application treatment to reflect current data in Management Practice RM-1.
  • Enhance the Management Practices on water quality to add education for hunters regarding proper disposal of deer remains outside of streams and other bodies of waters.

The second group focused on the recommendations in Section 7.4 regarding Surface Water and Groundwater Availability related topics. Based on the small group discussion, the following will be the main areas of focus for revisions for the Council to consider:

  • Update the Recommendations to reflect policy changes since 2011 (e.g., Flint River Drought Protection Act, drought management rules, revised WCM).
  • Promote the use of data collected by local governments and water and wastewater systems in resource assessments and note use of agricultural meter data in the surface water assessment as progress toward improved modeling.
  • Recognize the improvement in surface water availability modeling through the addition of the Carsonville node.  Recommend the addition of a planning node between Montezuma and Bainbridge.
  • Note groundwater and ASR studies as progress toward improving groundwater assessments and understanding of impacts of use on aquifers.
  • Remove the recommendation regarding re-evaluating minimum flow requirements at Woodruff Dam given completion of the USACE FEIS.
  • Update the agricultural water metering recommendation to note progress in implementation (delete two of the items that have been addressed) and change of responsible agency.
  • Add consideration of amenity pond impacts to the information needs.
  • Note the possible need to update the Regional Water Plan after the decision on the FL v. GA litigation.
  • Add the Metro Water District to the recommendation about coordination with neighboring Councils.
  • Consider recommending that the threshold for water withdrawal permits be decreased to 10,000 gallons per day.
  • Assign the Vision and Goals Committee to suggest changes for the Council to consider to the recommendation about Council authority and funding.

The Council reconvened and briefly reviewed the above outcomes of the small group discussions. Kristin reported that technical support staff would review Council member input and bring suggested edits to the plan at the next Council meeting.

Public Comment

There was no public comment.

Next Steps and Adjournment

Kristin Rowles said that she would be in touch with committee members to set schedules and distribute materials regarding the Metro Water District plan update review and some of the Regional Water Plan revisions discussed today.

Council Chair Donald Chase thanked members for attending and the meeting was adjourned.

Council Members Attending January 11, 2017 Meeting:

  • Donald Chase, Chair
  • Dick Morrow, Vice Chair
  • Hays Arnold
  • Michael Bowens
  • Gene Brunson
  • Beth English
  • Fred Granitz
  • Jack Holbrook
  • Raines Jordan
  • Brant Keller
  • Lamar Perlis
  • Gary Powell
  • Larry Smith
  • Randall Starling
  • Brian Upson
  • Joel Wood

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