Available freshwater makes up barely 3 percent of all the water in the world, and to ensure Liberty County properly manages its share now and for the future, county officials and representatives of municipalities have formed the Liberty County Water Planning Council.
Though in its early stages, the council’s primary focus will be to assess the state of the area’s water use and management and develop recommendations for its preservation, Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas said.
Currently, the council includes representation from all seven municipalities, county leadership and the Liberty County Development Authority. Thomas said as the structure of the group is determined, it is likely more representatives will be included.
“We have limits on the amount of water we can draw from our aquifer, and we saw the necessity to band together as a county to be sure we manage our resources,” he said. “We found that the best way is to get the municipalities together to establish usage factors and go to the state and tell them.”
Liberty County takes its water from the Upper Floridan Aquifer, a resource that Thomas said currently provides a sufficient amount of water for the area and this year has been replenished by more rainfall than in the past few years. Hinesville has several wells from which it draws water, Thomas said.
The aquifer covers about 100,000 square miles from southern Alabama to southern South Carolina as well as the state of Florida. Overuse by communities sharing the aquifer poses at least two problems for Liberty County — loss of available water and saltwater intrusion.
Through his involvement in the Coastal Georgia Regional Water Council, Thomas said he has learned that Liberty County sits on the edge of a “cone of depression,” an area where so much water is withdrawn by a community that it lowers the water table and may eventually affect the amount of water that can be drawn by nearby communities.
The lower the water table in a coastal community becomes, the more likely saltwater will flow into the aquifer. Thomas said studies of the area are still being conducted and “the exent of the problem of saltwater intrusion has not been established.”
The county water planning council’s intent is to learn how each municipality manages its alloted resources. “We want to ensure that we use them properly, so that later on we are not restricted in our growth,” he said. “In our area, we’re trying to protect the water use to accommodate growth.”
The most likely part of Liberty County to see immediate growth is Hinesville, Thomas noted. Growth is expected in the eastern part, as well. Ultimately, the state has the authority to decide how much water communities can use. Thomas said sunce Georgia officials generally want local municipalities to manage their use themselves, having a countywide group is ideal.
“Everybody wants to work together on this. We don’t want unnecessary limitations,” he said. “Once you use up your natural resources, it can take years for them to come back.”