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Clean Water For All

February 4, 2016

Every day I work for Georgia’s rivers because I know the value of clean water.

Wherever I hike or bike for long distances, where I decide to go is dictated by where I will find water to drink.  I have traveled all over the country, and beyond its borders, and carried water from streams dirty and clear, dry and flooding.  The pipes in my own home have frozen, which was only a temporary inconvenience.  Now with two children under the age of three (plus the dog), I cannot imagine how my family could function without dependable water for any duration.

Flint, Michigan’s unfolding water and public health crisis is timely example of why “clean water” in the United States is not a spectator sport.  If you want clean water, you have to work for it.  Demand it.  Fight for it.

And that’s what I do.

Unfortunately, a lot of what I do is not camera-ready, easy to articulate or measure.  It’s hard to capture the excitement of a meeting with federal regulators.  Regional Water Council meetings and public hearings often include drowsy attendees.  The comment letters I draft are not bestselling novels destined for adaptation to the big screen; they are serious, technical and dry.  In other words, the work of a policy director is not a riveting day on the river with Paddle Georgia.  But, I have learned by experience and observation, if I want clean water I have to work for it.

If you need inspiration, read a recent Rolling Stone essay—“Who Poisoned Flint, Michigan?”—about how a “livid” mother of four, an Iraqi-American pediatrician and a MacArthur genius helped Flint when few people were listening.  When they first spoke out about the lead poisoning in their drinking water, Flint’s residents were methodically lied to and belittled as “anti-everything” by state officials for nearly two years.

Because nobody in Georgia should live in fear of their drinking water, for the next few months, I will regularly travel between Athens and the state Capitol to advocate for our rivers and clean water.

I will actively work to pass Senate Bill 36, the Underground Water Supply Protection Act of 2015.  This bill will protect groundwater and people who depend on it.  It concerns me that residents in Grady County are facing high levels of arsenic in their well water.  It also concerns me that rather seek the source of polluted well water in Juliette, which could be a consequence of quarry operations or coal ash or both, local and state officials engineered a drinking water switch.

SB 36 bill passed the Senate with only three dissenting votes during the 2015 session.  It is now sitting in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. SB 36 needs a full committee hearing AND must be voted out of committee with a “do pass.”  The bill does three things:  it affirms the public nature of aquifer resources; it confirms the private property right to undiminished natural water quality from the resource; and it requires the Department of Natural Resources Board to draft rules that will protect the public and private values of our groundwater resources.

Additionally, I am actively working to protect all of Georgia’s streams, creeks and rivers with “buffers.”  All of Georgia’s waterways are supposed to be protected by a 25-foot buffer. On cold water trout streams in north Georgia that buffer is 50 feet. These protected areas help keep water clean, protect habitat for fish and wildlife, and prevent damage to streamside property.

However, in the summer of 2015 the Georgia Supreme Court placed the protection of Georgia’s creeks, streams and rivers in question. Georgia’s General Assembly should heed the Supreme Court’s advice in Turner v. Ga River Network et al (see page 6): fix an ambiguous and arbitrary law that leaves many of the state’s waterways without legal protection. There are proven ways to measure a buffer in the absence of “wrested vegetation” such as using “the ordinary high water mark.”

The legislative priorities outlined above may appear tangential to Flint’s un-natural disaster.  They are not.  The Flint crisis was a failure of government at local, state and federal levels.  Participation in the political process in Georgia or anywhere, regardless of the specific issue demonstrates the value of clean water to decision makers.  If we do not communicate what matters, decision makers will make choices for us.

We have the tools and experience to maintain and keep our water systems from failing.  What we apparently lack is the political and regulatory capacity to avoid un-natural drinking water disasters as witnessed in 2014 in Charleston, West Virginia and Toledo, Ohio.  We are not an exceptional nation if we allow these un-natural disasters to occur or re-occur.

Please join me, and the Georgia Water Coalition on Capitol Conservation Day (February 17) as we work for, demand and fight for clean water.  The Georgia general assembly only meets for 40-days a year.  Your voice matters.  Please come the Capitol and tell your elected officials how important clean water is to your community, our economy and the rivers we love.

And finally, please SIGN UP to receive important and timely Protect Georgia action alerts to stay up to date on issues affecting clean water, the health of our rivers and Georgia’s vital natural resources.
Membership in Protect Georgia is free and allows you to easily contact your senator, representative or other decision maker via e-mail when an important decision is pending or a vote is scheduled.

-Chris Manganiello

2016 Legislative Priorities

December 21, 2015

Georgia’s General Assembly session will begin on Monday, January 11, 2016.  This is the second year of a two-year legislative cycle.  And according to many legislators and observers, the 40-day session will be quick.  Why?  It’s an election year, and sitting legislators cannot raise campaign cash while the session is, well, in session.  So, the rumor is the legislative calendar will be light.  And the peoples’ business will be executed quickly.

What are the important conservation and environmental issues?

Georgia River Network (GRN) is supporting a Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) priority to protect all of Georgia’s streams, creeks and rivers. All of Georgia’s waterways are supposed to be protected by a 25-foot buffer. On cold water trout streams in north Georgia that buffer is 50 feet. These protected areas help keep water clean, protect habitat for fish and wildlife, and prevent damage to streamside property.

However, this summer the Georgia Supreme Court reversed lower court decisions and placed the protection of Georgia’s creeks, streams and rivers in question. The high court limited the methods used by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to determine streamside protection zones to a single, narrow test:  buffers are to be measured only from the point of “wrested vegetation.” Not all waterways have wrested vegetation, however, which leaves many of the state’s streams, creeks and rivers without a protected buffer.

Georgia’s General Assembly should heed the Supreme Court’s advice in Turner v. Ga River Network et al (see page 6): fix an ambiguous and arbitrary law that leaves many of the state’s waterways without legal protection. There are other proven ways to measure a buffer in the absence of wrested vegetation such as using “the ordinary high water mark.”  We need YOUR help.  To learn more about “Buffers” and TAKE ACTION, visit: http://www.protectgeorgia.org/#/takeaction

GRN is also supporting a GWC priority to pass Senate Bill 36, the Underground Water Supply Protection Act of 2015.  This bill passed the Senate with only three dissenting votes during the 2015 session.  It is now sitting in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee. SB 36 needs a full committee hearing AND must be voted out of committee with a “do pass.”  The bill does three things:  it affirms the public nature of aquifer resources; it confirms the private property right to undiminished natural water quality from the resource; and it requires the Department of Natural Resources Board to promulgate rules that will protect the public and private values of our groundwater resources.

There are other issues that may arise during the legislative session that GRN will pay particular attention to.  For example, there has been discussion about a possible Constitutional Amendment to stop the General Assembly from raiding the fees we pay that are supposed to finance the solid waste, hazardous waste, public safety and other ‘trust funds.’  Instead of directing the fees to their stated purpose, the General Assembly has used these fees to balance the budget.  This has been a problem and needs to be fixed.

Additionally, we will watch House Bill 682, the Water Conservation Act of 2015.  This bill would require local government entities withdrawing water from our streams, creeks and rivers to return reasonable percentages of those withdrawals over time, which is a good thing.  And we will be paying attention to House Bill 483, which would make the shoal bass a symbol of the State of Georgia, specifically its official native riverine sport fish.

GRN is the voice for all of Georgia’s rivers, and we help everyone enjoy, connect with and advocate for economically vital and clean flowing rivers.  And we need YOUR help after the General Assembly convenes.

Please SIGN UP NOW to receive important and timely Protect Georgia action alerts to stay up to date on issues affecting clean water, the health of our rivers and Georgia’s vital natural resources.
Membership in Protect Georgia—formerly known as the Georgia Environmental Action Network (GEAN)—is free and allows you to easily contact your senator, representative or other decision maker via e-mail when an important decision is pending or a vote is scheduled.

Sign-up here: http://www.protectgeorgia.org/georgia-river-network—sign-up-form.html

-Chris Manganiello

Georgia’s Dirty Dozen; Now a baker’s dozen

November 5, 2015

Earlier this week, the Georgia Water Coalition named its “Dirty Dozen” for 2015, highlighting 12 offenses to Georgia’s waters. The report’s entries were submitted by Georgia River Network and many of our partners all over the state.

The annual Dirty Dozen shines a spotlight on threats to Georgia’s water resources as well as the polluters and state or federal policies, or failures that ultimately harm—or could harm—Georgia property owners, downstream communities, fish and wildlife, hunters and anglers, and boaters and swimmers.

The Dirty Dozen is not a list of the most polluted water bodies in Georgia, nor are they ranked in any particular order.  It’s a list of problems that exemplify the results of inadequate funding for Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD), a lack of political will to enforce existing environmental protections, and ultimately misguided water planning and spending priorities that flow from the very top of Georgia’s leadership.

Georgia River Network’s nomination was in response to a number of issues regarding buffer protections.  This summer the Georgia Supreme Court reversed lower court decisions and placed the protection of Georgia’s rivers, streams and lakes in question (back story here). The high court limited the methods used by Georgia’s EPD to determine streamside buffers to a single narrow test that leaves many of the state’s streams without protection.

Georgia’s groundwater lacks adequate protection, which is a problem because 20 percent of the water used in Georgia homes and businesses is pumped from wells tapping our state’s underground aquifers.  Many of those communities, like Waycross, are also burdened with one or more of the 500 identified hazardous waste sites found statewide where toxic contamination is known to exist and poses a threat to water and local residents.  If the Georgia House of Representatives passes Senate Bill 36, then the Department of Natural Resources would be required to implement rules protecting the state’s groundwater and communities like Waycross from harm.

The Sabal Trail pipeline is an example of a potential threat to surface and ground water supplies.  Spectra Energy’s Sabal Pipeline poses threats to Georgia communities, as well as their air, water and property, while providing no benefits to these same communities. For southwest Georgia residents the pipeline project is all risks and no rewards.

State spending to expand Georgia’s water supplies has aggravated a two-decade-long water war with Alabama and Florida. Since 2012, the Governor’s Water Supply Program has directed over $190 million to construct dams and reservoirs—many of questionable need—in an attempt to store and divert water from downstream neighbors. In a shocking course correction away from reservoir building, Newton County commissioners recently placed a 15-year old reservoir proposal on the shelf after spending $20 million.

The GWC publishes this annual list as a call to action for our state and federal leaders and our fellow citizens to come together to correct pollution problems, eliminate the wasteful use of our tax dollars and restore our streams, rivers, lakes and coastal waters.  The Coalition also gives credit for doing the right thing where credit is due.

For example, the Dirty Dozen Report celebrates the decision by the Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) to deny a petroleum pipeline company the authority to use eminent domain for a pipeline running from Augusta through coastal Georgia to Florida.  DOT’s action to stop the proposed Palmetto Pipeline earned that issue special recognition as “Clean #13,” making the 2015 report a baker’s dozen of issues.  Despite the Governor’s public opposition to this pipeline and DOT’s decision, the fight to stop this pipeline once and for all is far from over.  There is more work to be done.

The full Dirty Dozen report details the history of each site or example, and provides solutions to correct these ongoing problems and eliminate the listed threats.  The full report—including updates from previous Dirty Dozen reports—is available online.

A sampling of media stories connected to the Dirty Dozen’s release can be found in this google News link.

-Chris Manganiello

 

Georgia Reservoir on Hold

September 30, 2015

Georgia River Network has argued that communities should stop throwing good money after the bad on water supply reservoir projects—particularly those disguised as amenity lakes.  Reservoirs for any purpose should be the option of last resort for forward thinking local leaders who are accountable to voters, taxpayers and utility rate payers.

With that in mind, we want to highlight a significant and recent turn of events.

In August, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decided to “administratively withdraw” a Section 404 permit application for a reservoir in Georgia.  And this is not just any reservoir in Georgia.  This application has been in the pipeline since 2000.  The project received a fiscal-injection—a $21,000,000 loan—from the Governor’s Water Supply Program.  Finally, Newton County’s consultant, William Thomas Craig, was the go-to consultant for reservoir projects all over Georgia until being recently released from a handful of projects.

Many of these projects have been touted by water managers and politicians as solutions to the tri-state water wars.  In the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint basin (ACF), Glades (Hall County) has been pitched as a flow augmentation project to benefit the Chattahoochee and water suppliers dependent on Lake Lanier.  In the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) basin, the Hickory Log Creek (Cherokee), Richland Creek (Paulding) and Indian Creek (Carroll) reservoirs have also been identified as critical tools to benefit Georgia in the state’s transboundary water conflict to the west.  Two of the three ACT reservoirs have received commitments totaling more than $100,000,000 from the Governor’s Water Supply Program.  And rumor has it Paulding County obtained a draft 404 permit from the Corps a few weeks ago.

Why was Newton County’s permit application withdrawn?  In 2014 and after fourteen years of planning, Newton County decided the proposed reservoir’s dam needed to be relocated.  This triggered a round of public scrutiny by residents concerned about the cost of the project.  Then residents discovered a water supply and management study from 2009 had been withheld from the public by Newton County’s consultant; it suggested the county’s water supply needs might have been exaggerated.  And, the Governor’s Office of Budget and Planning’s new population projections forecast years of substantially less growth.  Finally, a third party review of the reservoir proposal and current infrastructure by the local water authority revealed additional investment in existing water supply infrastructure was a better way to spend scarce resources.

Given the sheer amount of questions the proposal to move the dam generated, and doubts about the quality of information provided previously, the Corps asked Newton County to provide updates.  When the applicant missed multiple deadlines and decided not to provide updates, the Corps put the application on hold until the applicant complies with the Corps’ request.  It is important to understand the county’s permit has not been ‘thrown out;’ it’s just on ‘pause.’

The Corps’ decision sparked a round of back-and-forth between Newton County and the Corps.  Some residents agree with the Corps’ decision, and at least one cites the reservoir situation as reason to run for a seat on the county commission.

Citizens of Newton County have carried this campaign.  They showed up for public meetings, secured public documents and generated their neighbors’ interest.  This should remind us all that all politics is local.

-Chris Manganiello

Coal ash clean-up pending

July 23, 2015

In April 2015, Gulf Power Company shuttered the more than sixty-year old coal-fired Scholz Generating Plant, located on the banks of the Apalachicola River near Sneads in Florida’s Panhandle.  Retired and operating coal-fired plant sites all include mountains and ponds full of toxic ash, which is a by-product of generating electricity.

Coal ash ponds—which are often sited immediately adjacent to major rivers or lakes—leak and fail, sending pollutants into water communities need for drinking and other purposes.

In 2014, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of Apalachicola Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance and Southern Alliance for Clean Energy because Scholz is not in compliance with the Clean Water Act.  The facility’s unlined coal ash pond is leaking—which constitutes an unpermitted and illegal discharge—into the Apalachicola River.  In a settlement, Gulf Power, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Southern Company, agreed to a specific long-term coal ash clean-up plan.  This settlement adds Florida to a list of southern states working to address coal ash pollution and its long-term threats.

Is current coal ash storage in Georgia a danger to our rivers?  Given two of the nation’s largest coal ash spills in Tennessee (2008) and in the Dan River (2014), plus agreements to clean up coal ash in North Carolina and South Carolina, a plausible answer would be: yes.

-Chris Manganiello

Buffer Battles: Past, Present and Future?

June 17, 2015

On June 15, 2015, the Georgia Supreme Court issued a ruling on a critical issue for Georgia’s state waters.  The court’s disappointing and narrow decision asserts only state waters with “wrested vegetation”—or clearly defined beds and banks—are entitled to protection from land disturbing activities by 25-foot vegetative buffers as set forth in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act (1975).  Please read the case summary (page 4) and final decision (and dissent).

The decision stems from a legal suit filed on behalf of Georgia River Network and American Rivers by Southern Environmental Law Center on August 3, 2012.  We challenged the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s (EPD) issuance of a stream buffer variance to Grady County for construction of the Tired Creek fishing lake.  After multiple rounds in lower courts agreed with us, EPD and Grady County filed an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court where the case was argued in January 2015.

We hoped the Supreme Court’s decision would correct a decades-long, inequitable and confusing EPD policy that historically protected some state waters, while not protecting others that lacked “wrested vegetation.” Protective buffers are easily measured along streams, creeks and rivers with clearly-defined banks, where moving water has undercut the adjacent land and visibly removed or prevented the growth of plant life due to the effects of fast-moving water.

However, these areas of “wrested vegetation” are not common to all waterways in Georgia. For instance, south Georgia’s slow moving and black water rivers do not generate enough velocity to ‘wrest’ vegetation.  Additionally, coastal marshes are influenced by tides that typically leaves vegetation intact.  For about a decade, an old state policy protected coastal marshes lacking wrested vegetation with a buffer, but other waters of the state that did not have wrested vegetation were left unprotected.  We wanted to see that inequitable and confusing policy corrected.

While a majority of the Georgia Supreme Court justices did not agree, we did win some protections in another branch of government.  And there is more work to be done.

Where Did This Court Case Come From?

In 2010, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to allow Grady County, in southwest Georgia, to build a 960-acre public fishing lake on Tired Creek, despite substantial criticism from state, federal and other stakeholders. Construction on the lake, which began with timber clearing and an official “groundbreaking” in August 2013, will put Grady County taxpayers on the hook to pay for a $20,000,000 lake, and will alter downstream flows on the Ochlockonee River for property owners and communities in Grady County and Florida.

As of March 2015, the dam has been constructed.  But the project is now on hold because the county has failed to implement a Corps approved mitigation plan, a plan designed to off-set the environmental impacts of the lake’s construction.  The county cannot fill the lake until the plan is implemented.

In our 2012 legal challenge, we argued EPD failed to require Grady County to obtain buffer variances for impacts to over 100 acres of state waters lacking “wrested vegetation” on the site.

In the first round of litigation, an Administrative Law Court judge agreed with us that all state waters do not need to have “wrested vegetation” in order to receive buffer protections as defined in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act.

EPD and Grady County successfully appealed this decision in a second round of legal debate in superior courts.

In the third round, on July 16, 2014, the Court of Appeals of Georgia agreed with us: all state waters are legally protected by a 25-foot buffer.

EPD and Grady County eventually and successfully appealed this decision to the Georgia Supreme Court—the fourth, final and most recent round.  But there was another wrinkle in the process.

Earth Day Memo & SB 101

On April 22, 2014—which is also celebrated as Earth Day—Governor Nathan Deal’s appointed Director of EPD, Jud Turner, introduced a new level of confusion.  EPD’s Earth Day memo reversed the agency’s decade-long policy of requiring buffers on all tidal creeks and coastal marshlands.  The Director erased the 25-foot buffer between coastal uplands and coastal waters where “wrested vegetation” was not present.  Technically, buffer protections on the Georgia Coast eliminated by EPD’s April 22, 2014 action were reinstated by the July 16, 2014 court decision regarding Grady County’s buffer variance.

Georgia legislators were keenly aware of these agency and judicial turns as the General Assembly’s 2015 session commenced.  In anticipation of this week’s Supreme Court ruling, Senate Bill 101 was introduced to restore coastal marsh buffer protections that were lost on Earth Day 2014.  SB 101 passed both chambers and will establish a 25-foot buffer in the Erosion and Sedimentation Act to specifically protect only the coastal marsh from sediment pollution.

Governor Deal signed SB 101 in a notably unpublicized way for such a widely supported bill.  On May 3 he publically defended the state’s protection of gopher tortoises.  Three days later he quietly signed SB 101.  At the time, Georgia and South Carolina were trying to land a big fish: Swedish automaker Volvo’s first North American auto factory.  South Carolina ultimately set the hook, and the deal hinged on resolving environmental issues effecting the proposed factory sites.

Tomorrow (Thursday, June 18), EPD will launch a stakeholder process in Brunswick to revise rules and regulations associated with the Erosion and Sedimentation Act as required by SB 101.  You can find more information about the meeting and how to submit comments here; it’s free and you can register here.

The bottom line: SB 101 protects the coastal marsh while the Supreme Court decision leaves thousands of miles Georgia’s waters that flow to the coast without protections.

Closer

The science is sound and clear: buffers work.  Fresh water and saltwater buffers act like filters between land disturbing activity and the water we need to drink, fish in and swim in, that wildlife needs to live, or that boats need to float.  In general, the wider and less disturbed the buffer is, the more effective the buffer is for nature protection, pollution control, and wildlife conservation in fresh water and saltwater environments.

From the mountains to the coast and across south Georgia, and for upstream and downstream communities, buffers are critical for preserving the health of creeks, streams and rivers, as well as our marshes and other state waters from pollutant-contaminated runoff from disturbed land, roofs, driveways and roads.  Buffers are also the most cost-effective means to protect water quality and property values.

There are clear and established methods for measuring a buffer in the absence of wrested vegetation.  Georgia’s waters do not have to be brown or stained with red clay: they can flow clear again.

-Chris Manganiello

Rayonier and the Altamaha River

April 13, 2015

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) is currently evaluating a draft National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for the Rayonier Performance Fibers LLC facility (Rayonier) in Jesup, Georgia.

Georgia River Network (GRN) staff, members and partners have a special interest and direct relationship with the Altamaha River.

GRN has submitted a comment letter and asked EPD to reject the draft permit for many reasons.

Rayonier’s new NPDES permit must be a bold step away from the past and a step into a cleaner future for all Georgians and for healthy river flows in the Altamaha River.

A Legacy of Water Quality Problems

On June 23, 1954, Rayonier celebrated the Jesup pulp mill’s opening day.  The mill has historically produced cellulose fibers used in the manufacture of products such as rayon and cellophane, and eventually diapers and food additives, and more recently, mobile device and television parts.

In early September, 1954, there was a reported fish kill in the Altamaha River in the vicinity of Jesup, according to a U.S. Public Health Service Report.  On September 12, one week later, a second kill was reported and called “one of the greatest fishing scourges ever to occur in Georgia waters,” leaving “dead fish by the thousands” lining the Altamaha River’s banks for forty-miles between the mill’s 25,000,000 gallons per day discharge point and the Atlantic Ocean.

Per a consent decree brokered by Georgia’s Attorney General between Rayonier and three parties seeking compensation for damages to downstream private property after the 1954 fish kills, Rayonier agreed to “hold wastes dumped into the Altamaha River to quantities that will not kill fish when diluted with the river.”

One year later in 1956, “a slimy substance” began coating fishing nets downstream of Jesup.  At the time, commercial and recreational anglers blamed Rayonier for “ruining edibility and salability of fish and crustacean life in the river below the plant.”  The slime—sphaerotilus—is a naturally occurring bacteria that thrives in waters rich in nutrients.  In the Altamaha River’s case, a combination of pulp mill waste-stream by-products and low levels of dissolved oxygen contributed to a proliferation of the sphaerotilus burdening fishermen’s nets.

For about two years, Rayonier used kerosene as a foam control agent, which was present in the plant’s effluent.

Despite passage of the Georgia Water Quality Control Act (July 1, 1957), and before the federal Clean Water Act (1972), the accepted state policy and solution for pollution was dilution.

In early 1958, Rayonier doubled the mill’s production capacity, thereby increasing the mill’s total ground and surface water withdrawals to 48,000,000 gallons per day, and discharges into the Altamaha River to 50,000,000 gallons per day.

Georgia’s Environmental Agency Takes a Stand

In 1966 and because a “crude slime” continued to effect the Altamaha River, Rayonier installed a primary waste water treatment facility but only when ordered to do so by R. S. “Rock” Howard, executive secretary of the Georgia Water Quality Control board—a predecessor-agency to EPD.  And in 1967 the Water Quality Control board ordered Rayonier to install a secondary waste water treatment facility, which had still not been installed by March 1, 1970 as required.

All the while, the 25,000,000 to 50,000,000 million gallons per day discharge continued.  By all accounts and for the above reasons, since 1954, the river’s character has been forever changed according to commercial fisherman, sport anglers, conservationists, leisure seekers and state regulators.

How We Got To Today

For over a decade, according to Draft 2014 Integrated 305(b)/303(d) List: 2014 Rivers/Streams, a 20-mile stretch of the Altamaha River from ITT Rayonier to Penholoway Creek has been listed as “Assessment Pending for Designated Uses”—which in this stretch is “fishing”—because EPD has not developed “a numeric translator for the narrative criteria for color before it can be determined whether water quality standards are being met.”

In 2008 and in response to citizen complaints lodged by the Altamaha Riverkeeper, Rayonier entered into a “consent order” with EPD to reduce the color content of Rayonier’s discharge.  At the time, Rayonier’s NPDES permit did not include any discharge limits on color.  EPD had determined that “the color of Rayonier’s discharge had the potential to be a violation of” state and federal Clean Water Act “standards and to cause other objectionable conditions that could interfere with the uses of the river.”  This was a long and complicated way of saying that Rayonier was probably illegally—according to Clean Water Act terms—discharging waste into waters of the United States.  The discharges continued while Rayonier re-tooled the mill’s production lines.  That consent order is set to expire in March 2016.

In July 2012, Rayonier Performance Fibers LLC submitted an application packet to EPD to renew the Jesup Mill’s NPDES permit.

In June of 2013, over 300 individuals floated over 100 miles of the Altamaha River for seven days as a part of Georgia River Network’s annual Paddle Georgia adventure.  Upstream of Jesup and Doctortown—the birds, fish and sunshine, the magnificent white sand dunes, the clear and refreshing water—made the trip spectacular.  Then, on June 20, 2013, I paddled from Jaycees Landing to Paradise Park, and past Rayonier’s discharge pipe and through miles of river that have carried Rayonier’s discharge for decades.  The river’s character changed: the water color was different.  There was a noticeable odor.

The Bottom Line

Rayonier has benefited tremendously from doing business in Georgia for more than half-a-century.  According to Rayonier’s 2013 ANNUAL REPORT, the corporation executed $1,708,000,000 in sales with a net income “attributed to Rayonier Inc.” of $372,000,000 while using the Altamaha River for free.  When compared to the previous year, this is a sizable $225,000,000 increase in total sales and a $93,000,000 increase in net income “attributed to Rayonier Inc.”  Rayonier has the resources to do the right thing and implement proven waste management technologies.

The process of perfecting the permit should not be reduced to an argument about jobs versus the environment.  If the goal is to ‘balance the environment and the economy,’ than tipping it back in the river’s court is long-overdue.

Improving the permit—and asking Rayonier to clean up the mill’s discharge—will not result in closure of the mill if the King America Finishing experience on the Ogeechee River is a guide.

EPD must incorporate explicit, and require compliance with, state narrative water quality standards and conditions found in Rule 391-3-6-.03 into Rayonier’s permit to insure compliance with the federal Clean Water Act.

Rayonier’s new NPDES permit must be a bold step away from the past and a step into a cleaner future for all Georgians and for healthy river flows in the Altamaha River.

Other Sources:

U.S. Public Health Service, “Review of Altamaha River Pollution in the Vicinity of Doctortown, Georgia,” [March 1957], Iris F. Blitch Papers, Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, The University of Georgia Libraries, Athens, Georgia.

“Thousands of Altamaha Fish Die; Jesup Plant’s Dumping Is Halted,” Atlanta Constitution, September 14, 1954, p. 1.

“Agreement Ends Fish Death Suit,” Atlanta Constitution, October 19, 1954, p. 24

“Altamaha Pollution Hit Anew,” Atlanta Constitution, February 9, 1956, p. 25.

“Baffling Altamaha Phantom is Unmasked by Scientists,” Atlanta Constitution, March 31, 1957, p. 1E.

“New Rayonier Unit Keyed to Flexibility,” New York Times, January 19, 1958, p. F1.

“Crude Slime covers Giant Altamaha River,” Atlanta Constitution, March 13, 1970, p. 1A.

“Jesup Mill Faces Action: State office Turns to Courts As Pollution Deadline Passes,” Atlanta Constitution, April 3, 1970, p. 14A.

-Chris Manganiello

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