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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

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