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Proposed sewage plant not worst threat to marsh
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Editor, I feel compelled to write in response to the many letters on the issue of the Liberty County Development Authority wastewater discharge permit and the effects it may have on the salt marsh. What will be the effect to the ecological balance of our saltwater marsh from the discharge of treated freshwater? Do we really have enough information from the scientific community to answer this question? I don’t know, but it is a question that needs to be answered.
The good folks in south Bryan county and eastern Liberty County are concerned about the LCDA’s permit before the state Environmental Protection Department to discharge treated wastewater into the Laurel River of the Medway River system of our estuary.
First, I would ask these concerned citizens to look in their own yards for a problem that is far greater than discharging treated wastewater. I would like to emphasize the word “treated.” All who live and work within 30 to 40 miles of the coast are in the Atlantic Coastal Flatwoods (this is a geological term that means land from the ocean’s edge that rises less than 1 foot in elevation per mile as you go inland.) Hence the name flatwoods, yes it is flat on the coast. Just look where the rain water goes when in hits the ground, it’s flat down at the bottom of the hill. Rain goes over yards, parking lots, buildings, roads and then into a man-made drainage system. This cocktail of water and pollutants is untreated and released directly into the salt marsh.
 What does storm water runoff mean to you? What do you put in your yard around your home or business? Do you use fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, insecticides? Are you helping nature commit suicide by unwittingly releasing these chemicals into the salt marsh?
A few million gallons of treated wastewater from this proposed facility has got to be better for the salt marsh, than the billions of gallons of untreated storm water runoff that enters the salt marsh along the coast of Georgia. We need good scientific information on this issue to make good decisions.
I have lived, worked and played along the coast of Georgia for better than half a century and have seen many changes to the salt marsh and all the life it supports. Let’s take a brief history of water in our area. When the Flordian aquifer (our main freshwater supply) was full and had a positive water pressure, calcium enriched water flowed from artesian wells, springs and weeps until the late 1960s. This water flowed slowly over the land making its way to the ocean. In its travel, bugs and plants removed the pollutants and replaced them with nutrients, the natural way. We no longer have this type of system in place; we have replaced it with man-made drainage systems that discharge directly into the salt marsh without any treatment, natural or man-made. Water used to take 30 days to reach the ocean after a rain and in that time natural remediation occurred. Now, it takes 30 hours to reach the ocean and everything that washed off the land that man has touched winds up in the salt march without any natural remediation. We are sending a chemical soup into the salt marsh. Is this good and healthy for our salt marsh? I am no scientist in this field but being a commercial fisherman, I can answer that with a “No, it is not good.”
We Americans have been attempting to manage water along the flatwoods since the arrival of European society in North America. First, we built dams and trapped the water to grow rice, then we began draining land for agricultural use. Next, we drained the land even more for the forestry industry to grow pine trees. We picked up the pace of drainage in the last half of the 20th century, with bulldozers and backhoes to drain the land. We were very successful at removing all the standing water off the ground, so we humans can have use of the land for housing, business, agriculture, forestry, and just about any thing we can think of to make a dollar off the land.
In doing so, we have removed a critical component of the salt-marsh ecosystem, nutrient-rich, pollutant-free freshwater. We’ve replaced it with water that is heavily polluted and lacks nutrients, so I find hard to call this water “fresh.” There is no doubt that the water the LCDA is requesting to discharge will have an effect on the salt marsh, but just what that effect will be is the real question. Will it have a positive effect by replacing what man has removed from the system or will it have a negative effect by adding what is not needed?

Phil Odom,
UGA-certified Coastal Georgia master naturalist,
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