The Altamaha River, Georgia’s largest river and the boundary between Long and Wayne counties, tops the Georgia Water Coalition’s annual list of the state’s “dirty dozen.”
The return appearances in the Dirty Dozen report is based on pollution of the Altamaha River from the Rayonier Advanced Materials (RAM) chemical pulp mill in Jesup.
Next year, Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) will issue a new pollution control permit for the facility. If EPD’s actions in recent years are any indication, it seems unlikely that this new permit will finally fix this ongoing pollution problem. The state agency has repeatedly defended the existing and weak pollution control permit and last year took the extraordinary effort of changing state laws to make it easier for RAM to continue polluting Georgia’s largest river.
Rather than identifying the “most polluted places” in Georgia, the Georgia Water Coalition’s (GWC) Dirty Dozen report instead highlights the politics, policies and issues that threaten the health of Georgia’s water and the wellbeing of 10 million Georgians. “We wished we didn’t need to publish this report,” said Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, Executive Director and Riverkeeper with the Coosa River Basin Initiative in Rome. “But, every year, new threats to Georgia’s water arise and unfortunately, the state’s lax enforcement of environmental laws and its failure to fully-fund important environmental programs continues.”
In fact, seven of the 12 issues highlighted in the report are making return appearances on the inauspicious list. The list includes the following:
• Altamaha River: Rayonier Advanced Materials chemical pulp mill in Jesup makes record seventh appearance in Dirty Dozen report.
• Chattahoochee River: Georgia Power Company determines “safe” coal ash cleanup plans for power plants in Cobb, Coweta and Carroll counties while Georgia leaders are idle on stronger requirements.
• Coosa River: Suspect coal ash disposal plan threatens river and groundwater.
• Georgia’s Headwater Streams: Rollback to federal environmental rules endanger national forests, the birthplaces of Georgia’s drinking water sources.
• Georgia’s Public Health: Legislative budget writers continue stealing from environmental funds and delay hazardous waste cleanups.
• Georgia’s Rural Communities: Proposed legislation would stomp on rural property rights and welcome industrial agriculture — and its pollution — to Georgia.
• Lake Lanier: Chronic pollution at private sewage treatment plant highlights state’s failure to enforce clean water standards.
• Ocmulgee River: Coal ash ponds pollute drinking water in Monroe and Macon-Bibb counties.
• Okefenokee Swamp: Proposed 2,400-acre titanium mine threatens signature landscape of Georgia.
• St. Mary’s River: Legislative loophole invites out-of-state toxic coal ash to Georgia landfills, including one in Charlton County
• St. Simons Sound: Cargo ship disaster fouls marshes and beaches
• Terry Creek: Proposed federal cleanup plan for toxic site in Brunswick leave locals fuming. Then there is the ongoing saga of Georgia’s toxic coal ash legacy. Coal-burning power plants that are currently contaminating groundwater with coal ash make return appearances in the Dirty Dozen report: Plant Hammond near Rome; Plants McDonough, Yates and Wansley spread out along the Chattahoochee from Atlanta to Newnan; and Plant Scherer and Awkright near Macon.
In South Georgia, the Okefenokee Swamp is once again threatened by a proposed titanium mine. In the late 1990s a similar proposal was soundly defeated, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and EPD are now considering approval of environmental permits that will allow an Alabama-based company to destroy wetlands and streams near the Okefenokee.
The operation poses a threat to the hydrology of the swamp and the $60 million-a-year tourist economy the swamp supports.
On Lake Lanier, the ongoing failure of a small, privately operated wastewater treatment plant for a mobile home park highlights the lax enforcement of clean water laws by Georgia EPD. The plant has repeatedly violated the terms of its pollution control permit during the past decade, but rather than forcing the operators to upgrade and fix the problem, EPD has levied inconsequential fines and allowed the continued pollution of the state’s most popular reservoir.
This is but one of many examples of EPD’s failure to fully enforce the Clean Water Act.
Finally, in September the disaster of the Golden Ray cargo vessel in St. Simons Sound has fouled area beaches and marshes with oil.
The Georgia Water Coalition is a consortium of more than 250 conservation and environmental organizations, hunting and fishing groups, businesses, and faith-based organizations that have been working to protect Georgia’s water since 2002.