Every year the Georgia Water Coalition names its dirty dozen, identifying the most pressing threats to Georgia’s waters, and every year, the Golden Isles seems to have a prominent place on the list.
This does not mean our water is as a whole contaminated, dirty or undrinkable. In fact, we, like much of South Georgia, sit on top of the Floridan Aquifer, a clean and plentiful supply of drinking water that serves millions of Georgians and Floridians every year. We also have a huge estuarine system snaking through our mostly healthy salt marshes created by the meeting of the Altamaha and Satilla rivers with the Atlantic Ocean.
Those estuaries support an incredible amount of life, everything from shrimp that hatch and grow into the wild Georgia shrimp we like to eat to massive sharks that eat the fish that eat the shrimp. It is an extremely important system not only to the fishermen who trawl our local waters and the tourists who come looking for adventure, but also for the Atlantic Ocean as a whole.
Which is why we should all pay close attention to the coalition’s annual list and how often our area appears on it.
This year, local entries on the list include a wastewater discharge at a riverside plant on the Altamaha river in Jesup that environmentalists have fought to change, the potential for loosening coal ash disposal regulations and a federal Superfund cleanup site right here in Brunswick. Each has a real potential to negatively impact our water, drinking or otherwise.
We have written in this space more than once that Southeast and Coastal Georgia cannot become the dumping ground for the state’s coal-fired energy production waste. We hope the General Assembly in its upcoming session passes measures Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, proposed in the previous session that would at the very least make coal ash disposal more transparent.
We also hope the state environmental protection division seriously considers how much pollution a state permit allows the Rayonier mill in Jesup to pump into the Atlamaha River. Remember, we are downstream from the mill, meaning what is pumped there, comes to us.
Lastly, we should all watch closely as the Terry Creek outfall ditch, a marshside Superfund site on U.S. Highway 17, goes through the tedious federal cleanup process. Lawyers for Hercules, the responsible party, are arguing that because some groundwater contaminated by toxaphene in the area is brackish — at least partially salty — it is not drinking water and does not need to be protected. Such a ruling could have massive implications statewide.
We understand environmental issues are often politicized for the benefit of a party or a legislator, but when it comes to the cleanliness of water, politics doesn’t belong.