A top issue quickly arose at a Hinesville planning workshop on St. Simons Island: cutting the amount of water withdrawn from the Floridan aquifer.
City Manager Billy Edwards brought up the issue at the three-day retreat for city officials and their staff, saying the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has told Liberty and Bryan counties they must reduce the withdrawal by 1 million gallons a day.
Edwards, city council members, Mayor Jim Thomas, Assistant City Manager Ken Howard, Assistant City Attorney Richard Braun and City Engineer Paul Simonton prioritized 35 issues Wednesday evening for further discussion Thursday and Friday.
Edwards said Liberty and Bryan are listed by the EPD in what it calls the yellow zone in a long-running plan to slow or stop saltwater intrusion along the coast. Chatham County and part of Effingham are in what it calls the red zone and must reduce Floridan withdrawals by 15 million gallons a day. He said Liberty County has until the end of the year to develop a reduction plan or the agency will take action.
Options discussed included collaborating with Long County, which is in a green zone, to drill a new well for Liberty County. Conservation efforts also were discussed, but it was decided conservation alone would not be enough.
Councilman Jason Floyd asked what difference it makes to drill in Long County, when the water will be drawn from the same aquifer. Edwards told leaders to think of the aquifer as an underground river that’s deeper in the green zone and closer to the surface in yellow and red zones. Simonton explained that the closer the aquifer is to the surface, the greater the risk for saltwater intrusion. Thomas said Long County’s incentive for allowing Liberty to drill there is having a water source at that end of the county. Long County has no water system, he said.
“I’ve talked with Long County folks, and they’re not adverse to it,” the mayor said. “I think it’s the most cost-efficient way to do this. Hinesville is doing a good job with conservation, but some folks aren’t. What we need to do is collaborate with Long County folks, Liberty County commissioners and the Liberty Regional Water Resource Committee.”
The No. 2 issue discussed was revitalizing downtown. The third issue was a discussion of the Main Street Program.
On Thursday, the city leaders worked through each issue, discussing and planning ways to meet objectives. For a complete list of issues and decisions, read the Sunday Courier.