By David Pendered

The Georgia Water Coalition paused from its efforts to promote clean waters to celebrate what it called, “extraordinary efforts [that] have led to cleaner rivers, stronger communities and a more sustainable future for Georgians.”

Sunflowers brighten the landscape on the Cornwell and William Webb farm in Southwest Georgia. The Webbs were among dozens of agricultural producers from around the state who spoke out against House Bill 545. Credit: Georgia Water Coalition

The coalition on Tuesday released its fourth annual Clean 13 report to recognize a total of 13 individuals and organizations that have moved the needle in the protection of Georgia’s river and water resources.

Three honorees are outside the normal range of organizations and individuals to be recognized include:

  • SouthWings, a group of pilot based in Asheville, N.C. who volunteer their time, skills, planes and fuel to provide an aerial view of environmental challenges that are best appreciated from above. In 2019, SouthWings provided about 87 hours of air time in 29 missions. Several photos from SouthWings trips have been published in SaportaReport to show an environmental challenge;
  • Georgia farmers, who united to defeat House Bill 545. Though portrayed as a measure to help hometown farmers, the measure was intended to protect industrial livestock farms by restricting lawsuits against the farms for the noxious runoff from livestock excrement and other matter associated with factory livestock farming;
  • The Fall-line Alliance For Clean Energy, which prevailed in a decade-long battle against a proposed coal-fired power plant near Sandersville. State regulators this year refused to extend permits for Plant Washington, which had been the only remaining proposed coal-fired power plant being considered in the U.S.
plant bowen, southwings
The public has a better understanding of Plant Bowen’s impact because Southwings provided a flight on which Joe Cook, a nature photographer and author, took this and other photos of the plant and Etowah River. Credit: Joe Cook
The public has a better understanding of Plant Bowen’s impact because Southwings provided a flight on which Joe Cook, a nature photographer and author, took this and other photos of the plant and Etowah River. Credit: Joe Cook

These three entities represent the growth of the Georgia Water Coalition’s efforts to expand from citing problems, in the annual Dirty Dozen report, to commending good deeds. The state’s environmental community is joining in the growth, according to Joe Cook, Paddle Georgia coordinator with the Georgia River Network.

Over time, the Clean 13 awards have been attracting more nominees than there have been for the Dirty Dozen, Cook said. The Dirty Dozen shines an annual spotlight on 12 entities that are named as polluters of state waters.

“The primary thing I would say is, there is a lot more good news out there than bad news,” Cook said after the recipients were announced in a virtual meeting. He maintained a hopeful outlook.

Though the Emory WaterHub is a sewage treatment facility, the structure resembles a greenhouse and is odor free. Credit: Georgia Water Coalition

“There will come a time that some of those on past Dirty Dozens will be on future Clean 13s,” Cook said. “That’s the goal, to move entities called out for past problems to the Clean 13 report. I think we’ll probably see that as we continue to publish these reports.”

Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, executive director and riverkeeper at the Coosa River Basin Initiative, said Cook had come up with the idea of the Clean 13 and it grew naturally in a community that tends to focus on threats and harms being done to the environment.

“Eventually, we wanted to recognize the folks doing the good work,” Demonbreun-Chapman said. “As advocates, that’s not something that comes quite so readily to mind.”

To underscore the point, the Georgia Water Coalition included this sentence in the introduction to the report:

  • “Within the stories of each of the individuals, organizations and businesses highlighted in this year’s Clean 13 report runs that underlying theme: the need to help people enjoy, appreciate and take action to protect Georgia’s water.”

This year’s honorees are, in the order presented by the Georgia Water Coalition:

The planned Chattahoochee RiverLands project includes plans for “tributary trails” that will connect with neighborhoods and communities along the river, in addition to the primary 120-mile trail. Credit: Georgia Water Coalition
  • Live Thrive Atlanta (Fulton County)
  • YKK AP America, Inc. (Dublin-Laurens County)
  • Yonah Mountain Vineyards (Cleveland-White County)
  • Emory University (Decatur-DeKalb County)
  • Parsley’s Catering (Marietta-Cobb County)
  • Golden Triangle Resource Conservation and Development Council
    (Blakely-Early County)
  • Okefenokee Swamp Park (Waycross-Ware County)
  • Chattahoochee RiverLands (Metro Atlanta)
  • SouthWings (Based in Asheville, North Carolina with volunteer pilots across Georgia)
  • Fall-line Alliance For Clean Energy (Sandersville-Washington County)
  • William Ligon (R-Brunswick)
  • Freddie Powell Sims (D-Dawson)
  • Georgia Farmers

Note to readers: The 2020 edition of the Georgia Water Coalition’s Clean 13 report is available here.

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...

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