Georgia Water Coalition lists its “Dirty Dozen,” previews legislation

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The Georgia Water Coalition released its annual “Dirty Dozen” list Wednesday of what it ranks as the worst offenses to the state’s water quality and said some of them will become legislative priorities in the next General Assembly session.

The list compiled by the collection of environmental organizations includes both general water policies and specific waterways that are in need of state protection from pollution.

“Some of these policies have been as foul as the water flowing off Atlanta’s streets,” said Jennette Gayer of the Environment Georgia Research and Policy Center.

Two of the issues that environmentalists will press in the upcoming session are aquifer storage and recovery (ASR), a process in which surface water is pumped into underground aquifers for retrieval during dry spells, and the decision by the state Environmental Protection Division (EPD) not to enforce a 25-foot buffer zone to protect coastal marshlands.

A lengthy state ban on ASR practices in the Floridan Aquifer along the Georgia coast expired this year and legislation to extend the prohibition died in committee during the General Assembly session.

“We are going to push for another bill to put in a protective ban against ASR,” said Ogeechee Riverkeeper Executive Director Emily Markesteyn. “A lot of people rely on the Floridan Aquifer for water – if we mess that up, we’re going to be in trouble.”

State Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick) sponsored the bill last session to extend the ASR prohibition and will be asked to introduce similar legislation next year.

The issue of enforcing a 25-foot buffer zone to protect coastal marshlands from development also “sets the stage for a pitched legislative battle as to which waters deserve state protection,” said Joe Cook of the Coosa River Basin Initiative.

EPD Director Jud Turner disclosed last April that his agency would no longer enforce a longstanding policy that had required the buffer zones, a policy he didn’t think was authorized under current state law.

The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in July that all state waters are protected by a 25-foot vegetative buffer, which effectively reversed Turner’s directive, but he appealed that ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Bill Sapp, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, said the EPD’s appeal will probably come before the Supreme Court for oral arguments in January.

The “Dirty Dozen” list includes:

  • State water policy, which the Water Coalition contends is a threat to streams and wastes tax money.
  • The lack of enforcement of clean water laws in the coastal and freshwater wetlands.
  • The expiration of the ASR ban in the Floridan Aquifer.
  • Industrial pollution of the Chattahoochee River.
  • Power company actions along the Coosa River.
  • Pollution of the Flint River.
  • Pollution and the withdrawal of water from the Savannah River for the operation of nuclear reactors.
  • Political attacks on a national rule to protect Georgia’s streams and wetlands.
  • A proposed gas pipeline that would affect the Withlacoochee River and the Floridan Aquifer
  • Pollution of the Turtle River.
  • Pollution of the Satilla River that poses a threat to Waycross residents.
  • The threat posed by a titanium mine to Little Satilla Creek and Penholloway Creek.

© 2014 by The Georgia Report

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Tags: Bill Sapp , Emily Markesteyn , EPD , Georgia Water Coalition , Joe Cook , Jud Turner , pollution , state water policies