'Dirty dozen' includes proposed changes to beach, marsh laws
Savannah Morning News
By Mary Landers
November 14, 2013
The Georgia Water Coalition on Wednesday named its annual “dirty dozen” list of the worst offenses to the state’s waters. Among the state policies and failures included is a proposal to amend Georgia’s signature coastal protection laws, the Shore Protection Act and the Coastal Marshlands Protection Act.
In a post-Hurricane Sandy world where states from Maine to South Carolina are reconsidering the value of armored shorelines, the Coastal Resources Division has suggested streamlining the process of building seawalls and other barriers along coastal waters.
“This exemption allows someone to put in a 500-foot-long bulkhead that’s two feet thick and 13-feet tall made of solid concrete,” said Bill Sapp, senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. “There are all sorts of problems with that, such as additional erosion at the ends and in front of the bulkhead.
“Marsh vegetation in front may get scoured away. It stops the vegetative connection between the uplands and the marsh. They cause all sorts of problems. This exemption would allow someone to bypass the Coastal Marshlands Protection Committee and go in and build this structure.”
Another amendment would create a seemingly arbitrary 50-foot setback from the shore for development.
“Any change needs to be based on the erosion rate,” Sapp said. “If you’re going to use something like what they’re proposing, you should at least be able to demonstrate which distance is appropriate. They haven’t convinced us 50 is the right number.”
The Georgia Water Coalition is a consortium of more than 200 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses and faith-based organizations that collectively represent more than 300,000 Georgians. It was formed in 2002 and issued its first Dirty Dozen list in 2011 to bring attention to water issues.
“The Dirty Dozen is not a list of the most polluted water bodies in Georgia, nor are they ranked in any particular order,” said Joe Cook, riverkeeper and executive director at the Coosa River Basin Initiative. “It’s a list of problems that exemplify the results of inadequate funding for environmental protections, lack of political will to enforce environmental laws and ultimately misguided water planning and spending priorities that flow from the very top of Georgia’s leadership.”
Other coastal issues on this year’s list include Rayonier Corp.’s pulp mill pollution in the Altamaha and massive water withdrawals for Georgia Power’s plants on the Savannah River.
The latter made the list last year, too, because withdrawals for the nuclear Plant Vogtle are likely to increase with the ongoing construction of two new reactors there. The water coalition argues that these big withdrawals — it’s estimated Vogtle alone will prevent up to 84 million gallons a day from flowing downriver to the coast — impact ecosystems as well as drinking water for downstream users.
Despite the ongoing construction of the new units, the state Environmental Protection Division has not issued Vogtle a new water withdrawal permit.
Sara Barczak, with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said a draft review of the permit does not address alternative cooling systems or mitigation measures, both of which the water coalition advocates. The EPD has promised public hearings on the permit, Barczak said.
“You kind of question how (construction) can be this far along and not have a permit,” she said. “Is a state water permit really going to hold up this train or is it already rubber stamped and ready to go?”
It’s the division’s job to look ahead through the 60-plus-year life of the reactors and plan water supplies through possible droughts, accounting for other users’ needs, including the city of Savannah, which draws drinking water from the river.
“The Savannah isn’t exactly known for being pristine and doing well,” Barczak said. “Having a huge user become a bigger user upstream, those are all deaths by a thousand cuts. The question is how many cuts are left for the Savannah?”
2013 DIRTY DOZEN
1. Floridan aquifer: Water injection schemes gamble with south Georgia’s pristine underground “lake.”
2. Chattahoochee and Etowah rivers: Governor’s water supply program wastes tax dollars & incites more water conflicts with neighbors.
3. Flint River: Pumps, dams, diversions & state water policy create man-made drought.
4. Altamaha River: Pulp mill in Jesup continues to foul Georgia’s largest river.
5. Flat Creek: Polluted runoff in chicken capital sends bacteria to stream feeding Lake Lanier.
6. Ocmulgee River: Coal ash threatens waterways and communities in the home of fried green tomatoes.
7. Satilla River: Toxic legacy in Waycross needs further investigations, cleanups.
8. Savannah River: Massive water withdrawals for nuclear, coal-fired power plants threaten river’s health, drinking water.
9. Lake Alice: Dam breach disaster in Cumming highlights need for better dam safety.
10. Georgia coast: Proposed changes to coastline laws roll back long-standing protections.
11. Hurricane Creek: Illegal playground for off-road vehicles sends mountains of sediment to trout stream.
12. Oconee and Ogeechee rivers: Dirty coal-fired power plant to spew mercury and deplete south Georgia rivers.