Two Bills Would Protect Georgia’s Bodies of Water
(APN) ATLANTA — Members of the Georgia Water Coalition from around the State of Georgia lobbied on Wednesday, February 17, 2016, at the State Capitol for priority conservation bills, HB 966 and SB 36.
The Georgia Water Coalition is a group of more than 180 organizations representing over a quarter million Georgians.
HB 966 – Provides a 25 foot buffer along all state waterways
HB 966, sponsored by State Rep. Johnnie Caldwell, Jr. (R-Thomaston), and has bipartisan support. It is currently in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
The bill would provide for a 25 foot buffer along all state waterways.
Current law does not enable the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to enforce a 25 foot buffer along all Georgia rivers, creeks, streams, freshwater wetland and marsh areas.
Buffers are important to protect the quality of our water for drinking and fishing. Buffers also prevent erosion; contamination from pesticides, bacteria, and other toxins; protect wildlife habitats; and prevent construction or land disturbance within the buffer area.
The Erosion and Sedimentation Act (E&S Act), as currently written, does not enable the EPD to establish a protective stream side buffers on all of Georgia’s stream, creeks and, rivers. If there is no wrested vegetation, EPD cannot establish a buffer.
Wrested vegetation means only areas on state waters where vegetation has been ripped (wrested) from the bank of a waterway by the normal stream flow and left a scar on the land.
As a result, coastal marshes, wetlands, slow moving creeks, and riverfront properties lost their buffers.
“All waterways have an ordinary high water mark, but all waterways do not have wrested vegetation,” Chris Manganiello, Policy Director, Georgia River Network, said.
“On the Satilla River you have probably twenty five miles of tidal freshwater marsh and those areas are not being enforced like the E&S Act intended,” Ashby Nix Worley, Executive Director of Satilla Riverwatch Alliance, told APN.
“We see this a lot in South Georgia, where we have marsh areas that are inundated with water every day either by tide or daily river flow. They are not enforcing the buffer on those regions, because of the marsh,” Worley said.
HB 966 would fix the problem for the E&S Act, and replace the standard of wrested vegetation, with ordinary high water mark.
The “ordinary high water mark” is determined from physical characteristics along state waters, including but not limited to wrested vegetation, shelving, litter, and debris.
SB 36 – Underground Water Supply Protection Act
SB 36 is sponsored by State Sen. William Ligon (R-Brunswick), and has bipartisan support.
The bill would fix current laws and regulations that do not provide enough protection for the safety of our groundwater, nor for the health of future generations.
The bill passed the State Senate in 2015 by a wide margin, but remains stalled in the House of Representatives Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
“SB 36 would be a law requiring the Board of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Division to look at their rules protecting groundwater, and write new rules ensuring that our groundwater is protected, ” Emily Markesteyn, Executive Director, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, told APN.
“SB 36 is still sitting in the House Natural Resources Environment Committee and they won’t hear it; instead the Chairwoman and others passed HR 1198,” Markesteyn said to APN.
HR 1198 is a watered-down resolution that only encourages the EPD to review its regulations and does not have the enforcement of a law. It is sponsored by State Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newman), Chair of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.
HR 1198 does not focus on contamination threats in Georgia’s well water, such as arsenic, uranium, or other toxic contamination issues in Georgia.