Protecting The Florida Aquifer – With Guest Editorial

As a landowner that utilizes a private well in southeast Georgia, I have been closely following Senate Bill 36, entitled “Underground Water Supply Protection Act of 2015.” The Act, which passed the Senate last year by a vote of 48-3, would require, by law, that the Board of Natural Resources “adopt regulations that provide for the protection and preservation of the Floridan aquifer,” including “restrictions or prohibitions on aquifer storage and recovery.”

Unfortunately, the bill has been stuck in the in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee, chaired by Rep. Lynn Smith. Rep. David Stover created a rarely used discharge petition (House Rule 59) last week in an attempt to move SB36 along without a committee hearing, but it requires 2/3 of the House to sign off on it. Further, Governor Nathan Deal has indicated that he would veto the bill if passed.

Rep. Smith has offered House Resolution 1198 as an alternative to SB36. The resolution “encourages” the Environmental Protection Division of the Department of Natural Resources to “to review its regulations providing for the protection of underground drinking water to ensure they are sufficient.” Obviously, resolutions do not have the same effect as a codified law.

The Savannah Morning News issued an editorial that covers the sentiment of the ongoing struggle to protect the underground water that is so important to many Georgians. It can be seen in its entirety after the break.

Used with permission of Tom Barton, Editorial Page Editor of the Savannah Morning News:

It’s disappointing that Georgia lawmakers aren’t moving forward on a proposed law to protect the major source of drinking water in Savannah and much of the Georgia coast from possible future contamination because of plans to store surface water in the Floridan Aquifer.

Last year, the Georgia Senate approved a bill (SB 36) that prohibited the injection of treated surface water into the aquifer for storage purposes in case of droughts. The problem with treating the aquifer as a kind of piggy bank, which other states have done, is that you risk tainting the “good” groundwater with the potentially risky new water that is injected. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Ben Watson, R-Savannah, passed the Senate in a 48-3 vote. Both of Savannah’s senators, including state Sen. Lester Jackson, voted for it.

Unfortunately, the Georgia House is unwilling to take up SB 36, largely because Gov. Nathan Deal has indicated he would veto the measure if both houses approved it. That’s because state Environmental Protection Division officials, who work for the governor, want to be able to store water underground.

Experts disagree on the potential benefits and risks or even the number of existing aquifer-storage sites in the United States, and critics don’t believe supporters’ stated motives.

Given the state EPD’s abysmal record in protecting the Ogeechee and Altamaha rivers, the critics have more credibility.

And look at the water crisis in Flint, Mich. Why mess with a natural resource — the Floridan Aquifer — that has successfully served so many coastal Georgians for so many years? There are better ways to ease drought concerns besides doing something that could threaten the area’s main drinking water source.

One concern is that the injected water could contain microbes and viruses that could make people ill. A related concern is that some chemicals used to disinfect the surface water could cause problems when they are injected into some kinds of rock formations because its added oxygen reacts with pyrite crystals to release the mineral arsenic, which can be toxic in sufficient concentrations.

Instead of making the Floridan Aquifer off-limits to microbes and viruses and poison-causing chemicals, House lawmakers have approved a measure designed to let the EPD have its way, which is disappointing.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved a measure (HR 1198) to “encourage the EPD to review its regulations about storing surface water in aquifers.” In other words, conduct more studies — a common delaying tactic that governments use to make citizens think they are doing something, when in fact they are standing still or endorsing the status quo. Among local lawmakers who co-sponsored this measure and seem willing to trust the EPD to do the right thing with the Savannah area’s drinking water are state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, state Rep. Bob Bryant, D-Garden City, and state Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah.

Committee Chairwoman Lynn Smith, R-Newnan, characterized this measure as a way to force the EPD to hold public hearings. That may be its only silver lining, as trusting the same state agency that failed to protect coastal Georgians from a textile plant that had been wrongly discharging unregulated pollutants for eight years and was responsible for the biggest fish kill in the state’s history to protect this area’s major drinking water supply is ludicrous. If the EPD can’t protect fish in the Ogeechee River from unregulated contaminants and refuses to require the best available technology to clean up the discolored and odorous Altamaha River, why can it be trusted with something that’s more precious and important to the future of coastal Georgia?

Ms. Smith said she sees her House resolution as “a very important first step” toward strengthening the state’s water policy.

The thousands of area residents who are dependant on the Floridan Aquifer for a safe and secure source of drinking water hope that she is right. They don’t want a repeat of the crisis in Flint, Mich., where people were unknowingly given contaminated water to drink by careless and irresponsible bureaucrats who weren’t looking out for the public’s interests. And to suggest that the EPD can be trusted to do the right thing is an assessment that doesn’t hold water.

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