Nonprofit Voice | Protecting Georgia’s water quality – both above-ground and below

As riverkeepers, we fight to ”keep” our rivers clean and healthy for everyone. Though you might think that rivers are all we are concerned about, we also focus heavily on safeguarding Georgia’s drinking waters: The first goal of the Waterkeeper Alliance, our international organization of riverkeepers, is protecting drinkable water. 

Clean, safe drinking water is something many people take for granted – until it’s threatened or polluted. The situation in Flint, Michigan is a tragic example, giving people nation-wide reason to reconsider the safety of their drinking water. Your source may be a nearby lake, river, or underground aquifer, but all water resources are at risk of contamination from illegal pollution, largely due to loopholes in the law or the lack of funds for proper enforcement. To ensure protection of our drinking water, every state needs regulations in place and the resources to enforce them.

All water resources are at risk of contamination from illegal pollution, largely due to loopholes in the law or the lack of funds for proper enforcement.

For South Georgians, groundwater—aquifers lying beneath the earth—is the life source of our communities. Many of Georgia’s underground water supplies are vitally important: Farmers use it to water crops, industry uses it to run factories, and, perhaps most importantly, families rely on it for drinking, cooking, and bathing. Groundwater sources are cost-efficient and reliable, but remain one of our most at-risk resources due to insufficient laws that focus on surface water, prioritize water quantity rather than quality, and inadequately regulate certain types of wells.

Threats exist all over South Georgia, from legacy pollution left by former industrial sites in Waycross, to naturally occurring arsenic in Cairo’s wells, dangerous schemes injecting surface water into pristine aquifers, and the impact of coal ash and pipelines. Even with the best intentions, the reality is that accidents happen, leaks occur, and detection and response times are unreliable. Safeguards to prevent contamination are needed because there is no remedy if the worst occurs: Underground rivers cannot be ”fixed” once they are polluted, and the results will affect the health of hundreds of thousands of Georgians—as well as the pocketbooks of every Georgia taxpayer.

To help address gaps in aquifer protection, Sen. William Ligon of Brunswick introduced Senate Bill 36, the Underground Water Supply Protection Act. This bill, which necessitates no additional spending, requires the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to write rules protecting our groundwater. Leading the push for these new protections is the Georgia Water Coalition, a consortium of over 220 organizations from across the state that fights for all residents’ rights to clean, healthy, and abundant water. As part of the Coalition, Satilla Riverkeeper is proud to help champion a bill that’s good for Georgia’s people, economy, and future.

Underground rivers cannot be “fixed” once they are polluted, and the results will affect the health of hundreds of thousands of Georgians—as well as the pocketbooks of every Georgia taxpayer.

We’ve also supported several other bills considered this legislative session, including House Bill 966, aimed at restoring critical buffers to all state waters, which helps protect downstream drinking water sources and private property; House Bill 1028, a public notice provision responding to concerns over a proposal to deposit coal ash in a Wayne County landfill; and House Bill 1036, seeking to delay and study the use of eminent domain for the Palmetto Pipeline, an oil industry project that threatens many coastal rivers and aquifers.

Clearly, our water supplies are at risk. Protecting against these risks requires our attention, our vigilance, and passing responsible legislation that ensures clean, healthy water for Georgians, today and in the future.

Ashby Nix Worley is executive director and Riverkeeper at Satilla Rivekeeper, whose mission is to protect, restore, and educate about the ecologically unique Satilla River and its 4,000 square miles of watershed in South Georgia.

 

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