The Groundwater Use Act of 1972 and the 1977 Surface Water Withdrawal Amendments to the Water Quality Control Act exempted agricultural usage since farm use of water was minimal at the time of passage of those acts. However two factors changed in the 1980s: 1) the use of agricultural irrigation, especially in southwest Georgia, and 2) the drought of 1986 highlighted the need to address agricultural water usage. There was a strong concern that this usage could have detrimental effects on Georgia streams and aquifers.

The agricultural community objected to a water withdrawal regulatory program similar to that for local governments and industries, so the first attempt at passage of an act failed. The second attempt modified the bill from a strong regulatory program to one of permitting without limitations. The act that passed in in 1988 provided a three year “no question asked” permit period for agricultural permits. The permits had no flow limits and no monitoring requirements. The permits had no expiration dates. The objective of the act was to start a program and to get an inventory of the agricultural water withdrawals.

The program has change over the years to add monitoring and to give additional authority to the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to regulate certain agricultural withdrawals. Also, other acts and plans have been developed (like the Flint River Drought Protection Act) to build upon the initial 1988 act. The initial act language is similar to, but not identical to the language in the current code (as of 2012), OCGA 12-5-31 and 90.