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Glades: “no longer reasonable…viable”

February 15, 2016

 

Today is the deadline for submitting comments regarding Hall County’s proposed Glades Reservoir.  The project has a long history.

Given the state of Georgia’s recent statements about the project, it’s hard to see how this project moves forward.  Then again, if Hall County agrees with the state that Glades could function as a flow augmentation project, then the project would be teed-up to receive state direct investment and construction grants.  And the project would be a card in Georgia’s ‘water wars’ hand.

At any rate, the project as currently proposed is a sinking ship because the Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division says so explicitly.

Here’s how GRN commented:

“Because everyone makes history, these comments contribute to a critical moment: this is the first major reservoir project in the state of Georgia to undergo a full environmental impact and assessment review.  Reservoirs are major projects with significant impacts on communities and the environment.  GRN advocates for the EIS process and asks the Corps to consider additional reviews for all major reservoir projects in Georgia because of their individual and cumulative impacts.

Regarding the Glades Reservoir proposal, we ask the Corps to deny Hall County’s Section 404 permit application in light of recent actions by the State of Georgia and because of outdated and flawed population and water demand data.

Project Need

The project plan has changed five times since 2007—from a small community amenity lake to a massive pump storage project specifically to serve Hall County.  Most recently, in November, 2015, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) intimated that the Glades Reservoir proposal may yet again transform into a ‘multiple purpose‘ project of state significance, and thus serve a need beyond Hall County.

EPD has also declared, in official comments submitted regarding the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Water Control Manual (dated January 29, 2016): ‘given the revised 2050 needs projections…it is clear that Glades reservoir is no longer part of any strategy to meet the water supply needs of the State through 2050.’  EPD further stated, if Hall County’s ‘population projection through 2050 [had] not decreased as drastically as contained in the new Office of Planning and Budget’s projections, there may have remained some additional water supply need for Hall County from Glades Reservoir.’  But because of the population projection decline, ‘the State can say unequivocally that Glades no longer remains part of the region’s 2050 water supply strategy.’  Additionally, the state asserts: ‘as contemplated in the Glades DEIS’ and the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Water Control Manual DEIS, Glades ‘is no longer reasonable or even viable.’

Population

The Governor’s office has likewise publically questioned the validity of population projections utilized by consultants and applicants all over the state.  And as the Savannah District is no doubt aware, EPD has explained that while the ‘State will be working with Hall County on a revised certification of need, the old certification of need provided by EPD Director Jud Turner on April 9, 2013 is outdated’ and was ‘rescinded’ on January 22, 2016.

The Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget’s 2002 population projections lined up remarkably well with actual US Census counts until 2009 when the projections and actual population diverged dramatically. (View graph)  OPB’s 2010 projections were off by a wide margin, but OPB’s 2015 projections and US Census estimates appear more closely aligned.  Hall County and Gainesville building permit data reveals relatively steady development between 2000 (1,619 permits issued) and 2005 (1,489).  But after 2007, the number of issued permits plunged from 1,229 to a 2012 total of 261 permits issued.  Water consumption declined in Hall County from a high in 2000 of 139 gallons per capita per day (gpcd) to around 100 gpcd in the depth of the 2007 drought before bottoming out at 93 gpcd in 2009, according to Metro North Georgia Water Planning District data.

Despite anemic growth and reduced water consumption, Hall County continues to pursue the Glades reservoir.  Estimates of total cost—which are historically inaccurate—for the 850 acre lake top out at $300,000,000 with a projected 36 to 72 million gallons per day yield.

Because Hall County has changed Glades’ purpose so many times and in the face of a mounting tab, Hall County needs a bailout.  To finance this project, Hall County has turned to the Governor’s Water Supply Program (GWSP).

In 2013, the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) re-wrote the scoring criteria for the second round of the GWSP.  The biggest change eliminated the first and key threshold question that was asked of all projects in 2012: ‘Does the applicant(s) demonstrate a need for new water supply through 2050?’  According to directions in the 2012 scoring criteria, ‘if the applicant does not demonstrate such a need, the applicant earns a zero for’ the ‘Proposed Approach’ criterion.  In other words, the 2013 criteria stripped a key qualifying question that was responsible for a number of projects rating a zero for need in 2012.  In 2013, applicants did not have to identify the need; they only had to indicate ‘the need is significant.’

In 2013, GEFA also allowed GWSP applicants seeking state direct investment (SDI) to revise and resubmit their applications based on new criteria that identified a project’s significance to the state.  Hall County’s SDI application requested $14,599,000 and suggested the county might pay off some of the reservoir’s debt with a flat annual fresh water fee of $70 per tax parcel—regardless of size or value—levied on each of county’s approximately 75,000 tax parcels for at least fifteen years.

In 2014, GEFA worked with a consultant to determine what asset the state could acquire with SDI in Glades.  GEFA originally anticipated a one-year process in 2014 whereby the consultant would provide “consulting services for evaluating the state’s interest in three reservoirs.”  The selected consultant was to be tasked with validating reservoir impacts, hydrologic analyses on a watershed scale, and costs.  Plus, the consultant was going to ‘provide assistance in evaluating options for the state’s entitlement share through utilization of modeling results and other information.’

GEFA has placed this validation and evaluation exercise on hold, and GEFA continues to evaluate Hall County’s $14,599,000 SDI request as the project navigates the federal environmental impact statement process.

Special Permit Conditions

Finally, the Corps has included very limited information regarding special permit conditions that could be included and required of the applicant. The DEIS does not specify how many years a conditional permit will be valid.  We cannot support the proposed special permit conditions.  Section 404 permits are valid for five years and extensions are possible.

Conclusion

We ask the Corps to deny Hall County’s Section 404 permit application in light of recent actions by the State of Georgia, and because of outdated and flawed population and water demand data.”

 

-Chris Manganiello

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