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Restore Protection for Floridan Aquifer

February 20, 2015

For a decade between 1999 and 2009, the General Assembly repeatedly banned Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR)—the practice of injecting chemically treated wastewater, surface water or groundwater down into an aquifer with the intent to withdraw it later—in Georgia’s coastal region to protect drinking water.

In January 2014, Senator William Ligon sponsored SB 306 to permanently extend that moratorium.  Unfortunately, the Senate Natural Resources and Environment committee did not vote on SB 306.  The moratorium expired on July 1, 2014.

Fortunately, several legislators have recognized this mistake.  In January 2015 they introduced Senate Bill 36 and House Bill 116, which call for a permanent ban of ASR on the Georgia coast.

Over the past month, the Brantley, Bryan and Camden County commissions plus the Liberty Regional Water Resources Council have passed four independent resolutions opposing ASR and the injection of chemically treated water into the Floridan aquifer.

SB 36 and HB 116 must pass this legislative session in order to protect and preserve precious drinking water in the Floridan Aquifer.

What is ASR?

Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) is a technology where chemically treated surface water – or ground water from one aquifer – is pumped into another underground aquifer for storage.  In theory, the water may be recovered later during periods of low-flow or high drinking water demand.

ASR is risky for Georgia. 

The best available science and data indicate pumping chemically-treated water underground presents threats to all of Georgia’s aquifers, and can lead to increased levels of arsenic that exceed drinking water quality standards.

Pumping wastewater underground can introduce bacteria, pathogens and disinfection byproducts into Georgia’s aquifers that hundreds of thousands of Georgians rely on for drinking. Many of Georgia’s drinking-water aquifers—like the Floridan—are pristine, and we should not risk contaminating those resources, which nature has taken thousands of years to create.

Are there any ASR proposals or operations in Georgia?

ASR was recently proposed as a stream flow augmentation tool for the Chattahoochee, Flint, Coosa and other major river basins.

In 2006, ASR was considered as a waste management tool in Liberty County.

A 2012 proposal for a large southwest Georgia ASR well-field included a $1.2 billion price tag.

An ASR stream flow augmentation project is under development in Baker County and has been discussed for other parts of the lower Flint River Basin.

It is also worth pointing out that six regional water councils specifically addressed ASR. All six councils recommended first conducting research, completing studies and proper evaluation of “the best available science and data” before pursuing ASR.

ASR is prone to failure.

According to the Environmental Protection Division, a northwest Georgia ASR experiment failed because the true extent of the geology and hydrology for the area was unknown.

A 2013 nationwide survey of 204 ASR sites found 26 percent of the sites have been “functionally abandoned” or are inactive.  Only 37 percent of the surveyed sites were actually operational. (The remaining 37% are in testing and study phases.)

In Florida, only 22 of 54 ASR sites are active.  Only 40 percent of Florida’s ASR sites are fully functional.  To date, a total of 43 wells have been abandoned or operations suspended for reasons including arsenic mobilization, excessive operational costs, or the inability to recover the “stored” or ‘banked’ water.

In South Carolina, ASR projects have developed problems including well-clogging and bacterial growth.

In North Carolina, ASR projects have been delayed by water quality, water recovery and disinfection byproduct issues.

In California, a $150,000,000 ASR scheme promising to provide 100 billion gallons of water was “oversold” and failed to recover any water that had been pumped into the ground.

A U.S. Geological Survey study demonstrates ASR is not always successful.  Cycle-testing measures how much water can be pumped/injected underground and recovered at the surface.  Of 15 sites in Florida subjected to cycle-testing, 6 were considered “Low Performance” (0-20% recovery), 6 were considered “Medium Performance” (20-40%), and 3 were considered “High Performance” (40% or more). What constitutes “High Performance” recovery?  If, for example, you pump 100 gallons of water underground and you recover at least 40 gallons, you have a high “High Performance” well.

The solution? 

The Georgia General Assembly must ban the practice of ASR in our drinking-water aquifers, and support SB 36 and HB 116.

-Chris Manganiello

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