Georgians Place Water Quality Among State's Top Concerns

Voters Want State Governments to Take More Control
7 in 10 Would Pay More Taxes for Cleaner Water

Updated 10:29 AM ET November 6, 2000

ATLANTA, Nov. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- Georgia voters rank water quality among the state's most urgent concerns, with a large majority willing to pay increased taxes if it meant cleaner water, according to a new statewide poll.

Asked about major concerns, Georgians place clean water behind only education and crime/drugs in importance -- ahead of such issues as Social Security, health care and taxes. In addition, voters want governments to work together to solve water quality problems, and 70 percent would willingly pay higher taxes for it.

The poll was conducted last month following a landmark recommendation from the Clean Water Initiative Task Force, organized by the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Business Coalition. The task force proposal, calling on 16 metro counties to collaborate on regional solutions to metro Atlanta's mounting wastewater and stormwater runoff problems, will go to Gov. Roy Barnes and the General Assembly for consideration.

"These poll findings confirm that Georgians recognize the gravity of our state's water quality problems," said Sam A. Williams, president of the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. "And significantly, they want governments to work together to solve them."

Statewide, 53 percent of Georgia voters believed "local governments should be required to work together to manage stormwater and wastewater problems"; another 34 percent said "the state government should step in and take responsibility." Only 10 percent of respondents -- and just 8 percent in metro Atlanta -- advocated leaving water quality solely to individual local governments to manage.

The Clean Water Initiative proposal would create, through state legislation, a 16-county Metro Atlanta Water Planning District responsible for the policy, planning and intergovernmental coordination involved with managing the region's stormwater and wastewater concerns. The proposal calls for a governing board of elected officials and citizen members from the business, conservation, technical and academic communities; enforcement would come from the state Environmental Protection Division, through denial of growth-related water permits.

State lawmakers would have to approve new legislation for key aspects of the plan to be implemented. It was built on recommendations of business leaders, local elected officials and conservationists on the panel, over more than four months of study.

The poll, conducted for the Metro Atlanta Chamber and drawn from telephone interviews of 500 registered voters statewide, carries a margin of error of 4.5 percent. Pollster Beth Schapiro said the consensus for higher taxes, if necessary to solve Georgia's water problems, was noteworthy.

"It is rare for a political poll to find the public willing to pay higher taxes for anything," said Ms. Schapiro, president of Beth Schapiro & Associates. "But statewide, 84 percent of Georgians said they were either very concerned or somewhat concerned about the water quality in their area."

Asked how much they would be willing to pay in increased taxes for better water quality, 38 percent said $1-$5 monthly, 16 percent said $6-$10, 5 percent said $11-$15 and 11 percent said $16-$20. Just 25 percent of voters said they would not be willing to pay any additional taxes.

Ms. Schapiro noted the poll is the latest in a growing number of similar findings; another survey conducted by her firm last January, for the League of Conservation Voters, also found widespread concern over environmental issues.

The Clean Water Initiative Task Force

The Clean Water Initiative Task Force was created to address the water quality crisis that has resulted from metro Atlanta's growth. As a by-product of regional success, more than 1,000 miles of impaired streams and rivers are reaching their capacity to accept wastewater discharges. Additionally, a federal lawsuit is forcing the region to evaluate the severity of the situation and resolve water problems on an accelerated schedule, one of the most stringent in the nation.

Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce

With more than 9,000 members, the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce is the largest regional business membership organization of its kind in the world. Community development initiatives and collaborations include the Clean Water Initiative, the Metro Atlanta Transportation Initiative, the Smart Growth Partnership, The Arts & Business Council, The Metropolitan Atlanta Arts Fund and the Atlanta Partners for Education.

The Regional Business Coalition

The Regional Business Coalition is a consortium of 13 metro Atlanta Chambers of Commerce: Cherokee, Clayton, Cobb, Conyers-Rockdale, Cumming- Forsyth, Dekalb, Douglas, Fayette, Greater North Fulton, Gwinnett, Henry, Metro Atlanta and South Fulton County. A non-partisan, not-for-profit association, the RBC focuses on key regional issues including air quality, water and transportation. Its mission is to provide business leadership on issues critical to the region's continued prosperity.

Contact: Michael Mills of Hayslett Sorrel, LLC, 770-522-8855, for Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce