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Neill Herring, left, of the Georgia Water Coalition and Ruby Robinson, president of the Golden Isles Republican Women’s Club, attend Monday’s meeting at Bonefish Grill, St. Simons Island.

Members of Glynn County’s state delegation say they will do what they can to protect the Floridan Aquifer, Southeast Georgia’s primary source of drinking water.

Sen. William Ligon, R-St. Simons Island, state Rep. Alex Atwood, R-St. Simons Island, and Rep.-elect Jeff Jones, R-Brunswick, told the Golden Isles Republican Women that the underground water source must be protected.

Neill Herring, an environmental lobbyist for the Georgia Water Coalition, who also addressed the Republican group, said a proposed aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) process, where the state would store surface water in the aquifer, could contaminate the aquifer.

In 1999, the Georgia General Assembly passed a moratorium on ASR that has been consistently renewed over the past 15 years. During the 2014 legislative session, the moratorium expired and the legislature voted not to renew it.

In response, Ligon sponsored a bill to extend the moratorium in the last session, but the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, led by Sen. Russ Tolleson, R-Perry, refused to send the bill to the floor for a vote. Tolleson referred it to a Senate study committee instead.

Herring said the idea of injecting the aquifer with surface water was first introduced in the early 1990s by a group of Savannah-area developers.

“Their idea was to pump water from the rivers into the aquifer during times of high water, and pump it out during droughts,” he said.

The implementation of ASR would result in introducing dirty water into a pure water supply, he said.

“The water in the Floridan Aquifer is pristine,” Herring said, adding that the 100,000-square mile aquifer found in southern Alabama, southeast Georgia, southern South Carolina and all of Florida also discharges fresh water into the Atlantic Ocean off the Georgia coast.

Herring said seafarers have been able to find pockets of fresh water in the Atlantic Ocean.

“Everyone in Southeast Georgia depends on it,” he said.

Herring said he appreciated Ligon’s introduction of a bill to extend the moratorium on ASR last year.

“But the chair of the natural resources committee wouldn’t let it go to a vote,” he said. “There is no reason for the idea of taking dirty water and mixing it with clean water.”

According to the Georgia Water Coalition, in places like Florida, ASR has contaminated groundwater and is a waste of money.

The poison can be an issue in the water supply because when river water, which is oxygenated, is introduced into the pristine aquifer environment, it can react with rock formations within the aquifer and potentially cause arsenic to be released, according to the coalition.

“Then it has to be treated for arsenic,” he said. “Economically, it doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

ARS also presents a property rights question, Herring said. Groundwater belongs to the landowner, which is backed up by a 1909 decision rendered by the Georgia Supreme Court. It granted in part that landowners have the right to “natural flow subject to reasonable use.”

“But these (ASR advocates) want to take the water out of the ground to sell it,” Herring said. “It’s stealing. How did it get to be their water?”

“The most basic of all principles is you don’t poison the water supply.”

ASR has proponents, he said, in the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

“Somebody thinks they’re going to make money down the line,” Herring said.

Ligon said he, Atwood and Jones are presenting a unified front on the issue.

“The best way to protect and guard (the aquifer) is by law,” Ligon said, adding that he is already working on a bill to introduce this session that would place a permanent moratorium on ASR. “My bill would make it permanent, (with) no renewal provision.”

Ligon also filed a dissent to the study report published this fall by the natural resources committee because it left the door open for the ASR process.

“Proponents (of ASR) like to show a diagram portraying the injected water as static,” he said. “That’s not true. Contaminants will spread.”

He urged those in attendance to contact the governor, lieutenant governor and the speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives and voice their objections to ASR.

Atwood said he intends to introduce the same legislation as Ligon’s bill in the House.

“I take kind of a simple view,” Atwood said. “If it’s working, why don’t you leave it alone?”

Jones, who will be sworn in Monday, opening day of the legislative session, says he’s also on board with the legislation.

“It’s a complex issue we can all agree on,” he said. “We have to be very careful messing with Mother Nature.”

He said he wants to be on the Natural Resources Committee in the House.

“I want to work hard to protect our natural resources,” he said. “I support protecting our aquifer and keeping (it) pristine.”

Reporter Mary Starr writes about education, St. Simons and Sea islands and other local topics. Contact her at mstarr@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 265-8320 ext. 324.

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