Georgia Water Coalition
Georgia Environmental Protection Division gets greenlight to gut statewide water quality protections More »
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has gotten approval to move forward with rollbacks to state water quality protections, that favor industrial polluters over the health of statewide waterways.
The Board of Natural Resources decided today to publish notice of the draft rulemaking on EPD’s proposed changes to Georgia narrative water quality standards for public comment. The 45-day comment period will be followed by a public meeting.
“It is incredibly disappointing that the Environmental Protection Division is moving ahead with changes that may seem minor, but that actually roll back essential safeguards intended to protect Georgia’s waters across the entire state,” said Hutton Brown, SELC Senior Attorney. “Giving industrial polluters an additional loophole is the antithesis of acting in the public interest. All Georgians will be impacted by these changes that put our rivers, streams, and creeks in harm’s way.”
Last month, EPD proposed amendments to Georgia narrative water quality standards that would fundamentally change the protections, without stakeholder involvement. The standards language previously read:
"All waters shall be free from material related to municipal, industrial or other discharges which produce turbidity, color, odor or other objectionable conditions which interfere with legitimate water uses.”
In a letter to the Board of Natural Resources on November 21, EPD requested approval for changes in language that, while seemingly benign, would substantially narrow the interpretation of statewide water protections and give citizens less protection:
"All waters shall be free from material related to municipal, industrial or other discharges which produce turbidity, color, odor or other objectionable conditions which [unreasonably] interfere with [designated] water uses.”
Changing “legitimate” to “designated” would limit activities that are currently protected under Georgia law, while the insertion of “unreasonably” would give industrial polluters an additional loophole to weaken citizen enforcement suits.
In the case of one of the state’s worst industrial polluters, Rayonier Advanced Materials, the Altamaha River is designated primarily for “fishing” so activities like swimming, boating, and paddling would no longer be protected. This directly contradicts EPD witness testimony during the June 2016 state court trial that agency witnesses viewed “legitimate” uses as much broader than “designated.”
SELC: A Leader in Protecting Georgia's Waters
The Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) was founded in 2002 by SELC, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Georgia Conservancy and Georgia Wildlife Federation. Since then, the Coalition has become a powerful advocate at all levels across the state for protecting rivers, lakes, groundwater, wetlands and other water resources.
Now with more than 235 member groups, the Coalition has made remarkable progress toward its goal of maintaining Georgia’s waters as a public resource, and in bringing about comprehensive water resource planning and management that ensure a clean and plentiful supply of water while protecting aquatic habitat and recreational values.
The GWC and its members have won numerous legislative victories over the ensuing years protecting drinking water supplies, securing drought management planning, encouraging conservation, improving emergency responses, and securing tax credits for wise resource stewardship. SELC and GWC partners regularly fight attempted rollbacks to water protections around the state, from individual projects to statewide legislation and regulations.
In 2003, the Coalition helped defeat legislation that would have privatized Georgia’s water resources and led to the marketing and sale of water to the highest bidder. In 2004, the Coalition helped secure legislation that mandated state-wide water planning for the first time in Georgia.
SELC and our GWC partners succeeded in getting a bill passed in the 2014 Georgia legislative session requiring the Environmental Protection Division to improve its emergency response program. As a result, EPD has increased its emergency response staff and is now legally required to quickly and appropriately respond to emergencies threatening state waters. The Coalition also led efforts in fixing a problematic bill regarding the Flint River in Georgia, removing language that would have altered basic riparian rights in the state. In 2015, SELC worked with the Coalition to pass legislation that restores buffers on Georgia’s coastal marshlands and to remove loopholes before the law was passed.
The GWC continues to engage in the state's water planning process to promote sound policies that accommodate human needs and the environment. Directing the legal components of the Coalition’s work, SELC’s focus is to ensure that any regulatory framework includes protections for in-stream flow and aquatic biodiversity along with requirements for conservation, among other considerations. We are also evaluating the necessity of proposed reservoir projects and keeping an eye on Tri-State Water Wars developments.
As a result of years of work by SELC and our GWC partners to push the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to require more study of reservoir impacts and alternatives before issuing permits, the Corps suspended review of permit applications that would have authorized four unnecessary reservoirs around Atlanta. The GWC will continue to monitor attempts to revive these projects in the future, in addition to any new reservoir proposals.
The Coalition's attention now turns to improving stream buffer protections and groundwater safeguards through legislation and regulations. The GWC will be following a review of Georgia’s groundwater laws conducted by the state Environmental Protection Division to ensure that it identifies the gaps in protections that should be filled with better legislation. Separately, the Coalition will seek to improve Georgia’s laws and regulations for the handling and disposal of coal ash at electric utilities and in municipal solid waste landfills. The Coalition will also continue its involvement in implementation of the Georgia Statewide Water Management Plan at the regional and local level, with a goal to ensure the plan is fully funded and properly executed to protect waterways across Georgia.
Georgia Water Coalition 2013 Report: Recommendations for a Healthy Water Future
Georgia Water Coalition 2010 Report: Protecting and Caring for Georgia’s Waters
Georgia Water Coalition 2008 Report
Georgia Water Coalition 2006 Report
Georgia Water Coalition 2004 Report
Georgia Water Coalition 2002 Report