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Annual list of Georgia’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ waters cites categorical threats, five victories

By David Pendered

This year’s edition of “Georgia’s Dirty Dozen,” a report of threatened waters, marks a shift from specific locations to broader categories including groundwater, well water and public health.

Dirty Dozen 2016

The Georgia Water Coalition has released its sixth edition of ‘Georgia’s Dirty Dozen,’ an annual listing of threatened or endangered waters. Credit: Georgia Water Coalition

This is the sixth edition of the Georgia Water Coalition’s listing of the 12 worst offenses to Georgia’s waters. The coalition is a consortium of 236 conservation and environmental organizations that represent more than 250,000 Georgians, according to the report.

The coalition notes that the report doesn’t aim to represent the most polluted waters in the state, and doesn’t rank the threats in any particular order.

Rather, the coalition notes that the Dirty Dozen represents a plea for help to these waters and a call to action – mostly by the Georgia Legislature and governor – to address the concerns.

A lack of funding for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources is a major concern cited in the report. In particular, the report notes that the budget for the Environmental Protection Division is $1 million lower than in fiscal year 2005, when EPD received $31 million, according to the report:

  • “As a result, more than 27 percent of the major permits regulating what industries and municipal sewage treatment plants can discharge to our state’s rivers, lakes and streams are out of date. A program implemented in 2003 to hire EPD inspectors to ensure that construction sites were not polluting rivers and streams with mud and dirt remains largely unfunded. The program was expected to provide enough money to hire 80 state inspectors. There are less than 10 on payroll today.”

The report also makes what has become an annual notice of the Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste Trust Fund. Fees were enacted in the 1990s when tires are purchased or trash is dumped at a landfill. Of more than $500 million generated by the program, nearly $200 million has been redirected to pay for other items in the state budget, according to the report.

At this point, the report shifts to a discussion of systemic issues resulting from what the coalition cites is “legislative inaction:”

  • “At a time when the purity of the state’s groundwater faces unprecedented threats, during the past two years, the General Assembly has actually weakened protections for the state’s well water, allowing a moratorium on the controversial practice of aquifer storage and recovery to expire. “Meanwhile, the efforts of some legislators to enact comprehensive groundwater protections have been stonewalled.
  • “Likewise, in the wake of a 2015 Georgia Supreme Court ruling, legislative efforts to ensure that all of Georgia’s rivers and streams are protected by a natural buffer to keep pollutants out have thus far failed, in part because EPD remains reluctant to enforce this most basic of water protections.
    Coal ash, editorial cartoon

    This David and Goliath editorial cartoon is one in the series published in The Press-Sentinel, which is owned by Dink NeSmith’s Community Newspaper, Inc., which opposes the coal ash pond proposal. File/Credit: Dink NeSmith

  • “In October, this reluctance to fully protect the state’s water and the people that depend upon it manifested itself when the Department of Natural Resources Board adopted rules on the disposal of coal ash from power plants that, among other things, allow coal ash to be stored in unlined ponds that can leach toxic contaminants into groundwater. It is not surprising then that four of the Dirty Dozen are problems stemming from coal ash disposal and coal- red power plants.

Here are the 12 “worst offences” that are cited in the 2016 edition of Georgia’s Dirty Dozen:

  1. “Georgia’s well water: Coal ash disposal at landfill threatens well water;
  2. “Georgia’s ground water: While toxins seep into our well water, protections remain lax;
  3. “South River: DeKalb County’s aging sewers pollute urban river;
  4. “Coosa River: Coal-fired power plant dumps toxins in river;
    floridan aquifer

    The Floridan Aquifer, in yellow, is threatened by a proposed gas pipeline that also would imperil the Chattahoochee, Flint, and Withlachoochee rivers, according the Georgia Water Coalition’s 2016 edition of ‘Georgia’s Dirty Dozen.’ Credit: fcit.usf.edu

  5. “Georgia’s public health: Legislators steal funds intended for toxic sites, mosquito-breeding tire dumps;
  6. “Northwest Georgia’s drinking water: Fracking for natural gas fraught with dangers under Georgia’s outdates regulations;
  7. “Lake Sinclaire: Future of coal ash pond looms over Oconee River lake;
  8. Georgia’s coast: Oil exploration threatens coastal tourism, devastates wildlife;
  9. “Chattahoochee River: $99 million nuclear power plant study squeezes ratepayers, water and clean energy;
  10. “Cumberland Island National Seashore: Camden County rocket launching project threatens coast, historic barrier island;
  11. “Chattahoochee, Flint, Withlacoochee rivers and Floridan Aquifer: Gas pipeline company, federal government run roughshod over state, local government property rights;
  12. “Georgia’s rivers, streams and lakes: Agency charges with protecting state’s water thwarts legislators efforts to protect all Georgia waterways with natural buffers.”

The five victories cited are:

Bear Creek Reservoir, rendering

The Newton County Board of Commissioners voted in October 2015 to shelve plans for the Bear Creek Reservoir after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers questioned population growth estimates used to justify construction. File/Credit: landflip.com

  1. Newton County abandons plans to build Bear Creek reservoir;
  2. Offshore drilling threat ended until 2022 by federal action;
  3. Altamaha Riverkeeper wins lawsuit compelling cleanup of waste spilled into river;
  4. Little Satilla and Penholloway Creek protected from runoff from strip mine;
  5. Coalition created to file federal lawsuit against a mill’s practice of spraying wastewater on land surrounding the plant.

The coalition concluded its report with this statement:

  • “The Georgia Water Coalition publishes this list as a call to action for our state’s leaders and its citizens to correct ongoing pollution problems, address pending threats to our water and ensure that programs to keep our communities clean and safe are properly funded.”


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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