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Kemp awards $422M to aid Georgia water and sewer projects

February 22, 2022 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia Gov Brian Kemp on Tuesday awarded $422 million from federal COVID-19 relief funds to more than 100 water and sewer projects concentrated in rural Georgia.

It’s the second major round of funds that Kemp has handed out, having earlier awarded $408 million in federal money to expand high-speed internet access, also mostly in rural Georgia.

Kemp still plans to hand out a third round of funding to offset negative economic impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic in coming weeks.

The biggest project is $49 million awarded to Albany State University and the state Environmental Protection Division to reduce reliance on the surface waters of the Flint River basin and the Floridian aquifer by using deeper underground water supplies during droughts.

The Flint River feeds Apalachicola Bay in the Florida panhandle, where an important oyster fishery has mostly collapsed, in part because of unreliable water flows, especially during drought. Water usage in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system has been the subject of long-running legal disputes among Georgia, Florida and Alabama, with Georgia winning some key rulings in recent years.

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Georgia’s governor has the sole power to award such federal funds in Georgia, although he set up committees of lawmakers, administrators and others to screen applications and advise him on awards.

“We have made awards to make access more affordable and efficient, support economic development with a direct link to job creation, identify projects with considerable regional or statewide impact and enhance our ability to be good stewards of water resources for generations to come,” Kemp said.

About 80% of the money would go to projects outside metro Atlanta. Republicans increasingly depend on rural white voters as their top supporters.

The Flint River project would drill 242 deep wells that farmers could use during droughts, which Kemp said would do more to preserve surface waters that wildlife rely on.

Farms with access to the deep wells would also be helped with conservation and irrigation management. The project would also explore pumping water from wells to aid surface flows and incentives to slow or stop irrigation during droughts.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, an Auburn Republican, said the state focused on water and sewer systems that were failing or near failure.

“As time has passed on these facilities, many of these systems have seen their best days kind of go behind them,” England said.

The appropriations also are being directed to communities that don’t have enough resources to raise taxes or rates to fix the problems on their own.

“Taxation was not an option because most of the folks in these areas could not afford higher taxes,” said Sen. Freddie Powell Sims, a Dawson Democrat.

Some of the projects will go to drill a new well or additional wells for drinking water systems. Mount Vernon Mayor Joey Fountain said it’s stressful for his town “being down to one well with 3,000 people depending on you.”

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.