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EPA’s mandated review of Georgia rivers usage resumes after two-year lag

By David Pendered

The clock is ticking on the state’s review of requests by river advocates to upgrade the designated use of Georgia’s rivers – including the Chattahoochee and South rivers. The effort appears to rely heavily on volunteers with riverkeeper and paddling organizations.

A portion of the South River, from Panola Shoals to Jackson lake, would be redesignated to a higher water quality if a proposal is approved by the board of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. File/Credit: Kelly Jordan

In metro Atlanta, water quality in rivers would be raised to a designation of recreation, meaning that canoeing and kayaking is safe. This is a step up from a designation of fishing, which allows the most pollution and least amount of protection. The waterways under review include:

  • Chattahoochee River – from Peachtree Creek to Columbus, according to a state report.
  • Tributaries of the Chattahoochee River – Proctor Creek, Peachtree Creek, Tanyard Creek and Clear Creek, according to a related report.
  • South River – the navigable stretch from Panola Shoals to Jackson Lake, in Butts County.

Atlanta may try to thwart the proposal regarding a recreational designation for the South River. The city’s pending combined sewer discharge permit for two facilities that release into a tributary of the South River requires the city to meet state mandated water quality standards.

This review process is part of a Triennial Review that all states are required to conduct under the federal Clean Water Act. The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is conducting the review.

The process is to happen quickly. Deadlines loom:

quarry, wetlands

This tract of wetlands located along the Chattahoochee River would flow into the river in a stretch designated for recreational use, under a pending proposal. File/Credit: Brian and Shanda Cook

  • By the end of December, the review to be adopted by the board that oversees DNR. The final product is to be presented to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – where leadership has announced its full support for environmental goals of President Biden’s administration;
  • June 30 is the deadline set by DNR for advocates of tighter water quality regulations to submit their documentation to the state.

DNR did not meet with the public to discuss the review for two years. The first meeting happened at the start of the review cycle and nothing with the public was convened since that meeting, on Feb. 26, 2019.

The state has scheduled two meetings this month. The first was held Feb. 2 and the second is slated for Feb. 17.

Boat ramp, chattahoochee hills, ribbon, DNR photo

Chattahoochee Hills Mayor Tom Reed (center, brown coat) led the ceremonial ribbon cutting at the new boat ramp last year and now supports a recreational designation for the river near the town. File/Credit: Georgia DNR

The Georgia River Network has asked its supporters to help with the effort to redesignate the use of rivers from fishing to recreational. The group issued this call to action: We are reaching out to water trails, groups and interested citizens to take part in this process.

The process includes providing the state with documentation the state requires to impose tighter water quality regulations. The material is due by June 30 and includes everything from a list of rope swings and diving holes to outfitters and boat ramps. The material also is to include:

  • “Letters of support and/or opposition from municipalities, County Board of Commissioners, other affected governmental bodies, businesses, and other interested stakeholders who live in the watershed of the reach;
  • “Letters of support and/or opposition from dischargers, domestic and industrial, and intake;
  • “Investments, both completed and pending, for improved use of the waterbody such as boat ramps, parks, trails, or drinking water systems. Include the amount of the investment, as well as who funded the project(s).”


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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1 Comment

  1. Robert Searfoss February 11, 2021 10:25 am

    Directly related to protecting and saving Georgia’s natural bounty is the new award winning UGA Press book about how statewide Georgians worked (and can effectively work today) to save environmental treasure for now and for the future.

    Book: search for: Saving the Georgia Coast.Report


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