Expected growth along Georgia’s coast is leading members of the Coastal Regional Water Resource Planning Council to monitor water usage, and possibly look for alternative water sources.
Phil Odom with the Coastal Regional Water Resource Planning Council and chair of the Liberty Regional Water Resource Council explained Wednesday to the Exchange Club of Richmond Hill that it is important to monitor the quality of water sources throughout the region, especially over the next 40 years.
“The science given to the Coastal Georgia Regional Water Planning Council in preparing best management techniques for the statewide water and conservation plan for 2012 has led me to personally believe that our land use and surface water practices of the past 180 years, and our withdrawal of underground water over the past 130 years, has led to degradation of both natural water supply systems,” Odom said during the club’s weekly meeting at the Richmond Hill City Center.
The coastal region, which is comprised of nine counties, covers an estimated 3,990 square miles Odom said, including Liberty and Bryan counties. And according to the Executive Summary from the Georgia Coastal Council, the population of this region is projected to reach 1.3 million residents by the year 2050.
Odom explained that, like other counties in the coastal region, Liberty and Bryan counties have limitations on how much water from the Upper Floridan Aquifer can be used. This is because aquifer pumping in coastal regions can lead to saltwater intrusion, which occurs when aquifer pumping surpasses the aquifer’s ability to replenish itself naturally, Odom said.
He said this has already happened in portions of the Floridian aquifer in areas such as Brunswick and Hilton Head, S.C.
According to Odom, the Floridian Aquifer system is the largest renewable aquifer system in North America, and provides water to many states and cities. In Georgia, it provides water to cities like Brunswick and Savannah.
Odom also explained that there are three types of water sources that occur naturally in Bryan and Liberty counties. These include surface fresh water, ground fresh water and surface saltwater.
Liberty County is located in two subbasins of the Ogeechee Watershed, the Ogeechee Coastal and the Canoochee. Bryan County is located in three subbasins of the Ogeechee Watershed, the Canoochee, Ogeechee Coastal and Lower Ogeechee.
In Liberty County, there are no major rivers within the county that are not found on federal land, Odom said. However, there are coastal river systems like the Medway River, North Newport and South Newport rivers and coastal plains river systems like the Canoochee River.
The Ogeechee River, also an Atlantic slope river, and its major tributary the Canoochee River, pass through Bryan County. Minor river and creek systems feed these rivers, and the Medway River is also found in Bryan County, Odom said.
Although these river systems are water sources, almost half of Liberty County is considered wetlands, and about 33 percent is considered wetlands in Bryan County, Odom said. These areas would not be suitable for human habitation, he said.
“Portions of our swamp systems require being drained for human habitation,” Odom said. “Parts of our swamp systems should function naturally to recharge groundwater and supply the estuary with freshwater.”
In regards to moving forward with water demands in the future, Odom also spoke of the Governor’s Water Supply Program. Gov. Nathan Deal issued an executive order that the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority will develop and implement this program to help local governments develop new sources of water supply to meet future water demand forecasts.
Other ways the Coastal Georgia Regional Water Planning Council is looking to address this issue include: water conservation; alternate sources of supply in areas where groundwater or surface water availability may be limited; maximizing the use of existing aquifers; consideration of engineered solutions to address saltwater intrusion; consideration of aquifer storage and recovery; improving/upgrading wastewater treatment; and addressing non-point sources of pollution.