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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

 

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