There’s an inter-relation between the amount of water taken out of the ground locally, how much saltwater is moving into freshwater areas and how much usable water there is for everyone.
According to a study released by One Hundred Miles and the Georgia Water Coalition, industrial water usage has significantly declined over recent years.
“Saltwater has been infiltrating the Floridan aquifer because of intensive historic groundwater withdrawals in Brunswick and Chatham County,” Megan Desrosiers, president and CEO of One Hundred Miles, said in a statement. “We knew conservation investments had been made, but we didn’t know if they were making a difference. This study shows that investments in water conservation by the large industrial users have the potential to sustain our aquifer.”
The largest water user in Glynn County is Georgia-Pacific’s Brunswick Cellulose plant. In 1980, the plant was pulling nearly 60 million gallons of water per day (mgd) out of the ground. Currently, its permit average is at 45 mgd, and according to the study, it operated at around 28.6 mgd from 2005 to 2016. Also, the plant’s reduced its water usage during that period of time by nearly 7 mgd.
“In 2016, they were using 61 percent of the annual average permit limit for groundwater — 27.394 out of 45 mgd — and zero percent of their monthly permit limit for surface water…,” the study reported. “The Kraft manufacturing process requires large amounts of clean, fresh water. There is a T-shaped plume of saltwater intrusion beneath the mill site, but (the state Environmental Protection Division) and (the U.S. Geological Survey) report that it has been stable for 15 years.”
The study, conducted by the Savannah-based Ecological Planning Group, notes Brunswick Cellulose “is now using about 30 percent of the water to produce a tone of product as it had in the past.”
A different, 2017 study, conducted by the USGS, in cooperation with the Brunswick-Glynn County Joint Water and Sewer Commission shows a general decline in water usage by Brunswick Cellulose and the Pinova plant since 1980, with public supply showing a slight decline.
Pinova, which showed 7.934 mgd in its 2005 reported average, and has a 12 mgd permitted limit, reported using 4.598 mgd in 2016. Other Glynn County industrial groundwater withdrawal permit holders reported rates below 1 mgd for the period of 2005-2016, with most decreasing usage over that time.
Overall, thanks to usage reductions throughout coastal counties — Glynn, Bryan, Bulloch, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Liberty, Long and McIntosh — the forecast for industrial water withdrawals for the area is now about 60 mgd lower for 2020-2050 than it was initially projected.
“The public knows very little about the high-profile industrial operations on our coast,” said Alice Keyes, vice president of coastal conservation at OHM. “By taking a deep look into the conservation plans of some the largest water users on the coast, we found that since 2005, investments in efficiencies have resulted in significant reductions in withdrawals, especially in areas where water supplies are limited.”