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Clean Water Projects
Protecting Georgia’s Rivers, Lakes and Wetlands
Author: Senior Attorney Hutton Brown

What GreenLaw does to protect Georgia’s Water


From mountain streams to the coastal sea, more than 70,000 miles of waterways flow through our state. The water from them fills our water glasses, waters our crops, turns turbines to light our homes, and provides countless forms of recreation for all Georgians. Working in partnership with local watershed groups, GreenLaw seeks to protect these natural resources from illegal pollution by utilizing state and federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act.GreenLaw addresses these issues each and every day by requiring that developers, industries and the government comply with the laws enacted to protect our valuable water resources.


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Since its inception, GreenLaw’s Clean Water Efforts have:

  • Negotiated a historic settlement between the Ogeechee Riverkeeper & King America Finishing.
  • Required developers of a large shopping center to pay $500,000 to the Mountain Conservation Trust of Georgia to protect property in critical habitat areas for federally protected fish species and reduce impacts of the shopping center on streams by 25 percent.
  • Forced the State of Georgia to clean up ecologically important wetlands that had been filled with dirt from a prison construction site and to restore the property to its original state.
  • Launched a comprehensive training program with Riverkeeper groups directed at citizens, developers and local officials to ensure compliance with the Clean Water Act on construction sites. More information about this program can be found at www.getthedirtout.org. To schedule a Get-The-Dirt-Out training session in your community, please contact Senior Attorney Hutton Brown.
  • Secured a fine of a precedent-setting $1 M against a tire-cord manufacturer for discharging excess amounts of cyanide, copper, zinc and lead into the Ocmulgee River.
  • Forced cities across the state to build new wastewater treatment plants and upgrade outdated plants, dramatically improving the quality of wastewater that enters our rivers.
  • Prevented almost one ton of plastic from being dumped in the Oconee River each year by a newsprint recycling company in Dublin.
  • Forced a developer in Swainsboro to protect important water resources adjacent to a Walmart and required the developer to set aside 15 acres of permanently protected wetlands that will protect wildlife in this growing part of the State.
  • Helped secure a victory in the Georgia Supreme Court in a challenge to Gwinnett County's proposed discharge of 40 million gallons per day of treated sewage into Lake Lanier.

     

What Causes Water Pollution in Georgia

Most people are surprised to learn that ordinary dirt is one of the major causes of water pollution in Georgia. Runoff dirt from construction sites clogs rivers and streams, ultimately causing destruction of the habitat as well as land erosion. Dirt also can carry chemicals, or chemicals may be directly dumped by industry into local waters near manufacturing sites  The state of Georgia routinely distributes permits to dump toxic waste into local waterways.  However, even with so many permits allotted, many companies still exceed the limits set by those permits.

Chemicals

Despite the beauty and diversity of our state’s waterways, two of Georgia’s rivers rank among the country’s worst 20 for the amount of cancer-causing chemicals discharged into them including the Savannah River, which ranks as one of the top ten most toxic rivers in the country. In addition, of the 2087 of Georgia’s waterways that have been assessed so far in 2010, over 52% are too polluted to be used for fishing, swimming and drinking, and 106 lakes and rivers have fish consumption advisories (as of 2010).   This result is not surprising as industries and municipal wastewater treatment plants routinely exceed permitted levels of pollution by discharging untreated sewage, high levels of fecal matter and dangerous pollutants such as cyanide, lead and zinc into Georgia’s rivers and lakes. For example, more than 150 municipal and industrial treatment facilities discharge into the Upper Chattahoochee River basin.  In 2007 Industrial facilities were responsible for dumping more than 10 million pounds of toxic chemicals into Georgia’s waterways

Dirt

Georgia’s waterways are threatened by the unprecedented growth that it has experienced over the past twenty years. Home to three of the fasting growing counties in the nation, Georgia has been greatly affected by the construction boom of the past two decades. From 1990-2000 Georgia’s population increased 26%, from 6.5 to 8.1 million people, and from April 2000 to July 2009 population increased by 20.1%.  While growth can bring certain benefits, Georgia’s rapid expansion has come at a high cost to our natural resources. For example, in order to meet the rapidly growing housing needs of urban communities, Georgia ranks fifth  in the nation for development of farmlands and open space. With this development have come serious water quality problems associated with run-off from construction sites, many of which are concentrated in the headwaters of Georgia’s rivers.

Run-off from these sites is choking our waterways as soil particles enter Georgia’s rivers, lakes and tributaries during each rain event. With as many as four truckloads of soil leaving a single building block during a storm event, soil particles find their way to nearby rivers and lakes where they settle onto aquatic plants, rocks, and the river bottom, preventing sunlight from reaching aquatic life, clogging fish gills, and interfering with fish spawning. This process also increases the level of harmful micro-organisms and toxic compounds that are present in the water (sediment becomes contaminated and carries toxics into the water).


Ogeechee Fish Kill Settlement & Success

On November 20, 2013 GreenLaw announced that its client the Ogeechee Riverkeeper, (ORK), had entered into an historic settlement on claims arising out of the biggest fish kill in Georgia history.  Back in 2011, a textile plant owned by King America Finishing had been found to have an unpermitted discharge that led to the death of some 38,000 fish in and around Screven county, Georgia.  
 
Over the next two years, GreenLaw and its co-counsel Stack & Associates filed a series of lawsuits in administrative, state, and federal court seeking to force the State to remedy the problem. After over 6 months of extensive negotiations, we were able to consummate a settlement which provided historic protections for the River and also included a payment of 2.5 million to the Ogeechee Riverkeeper to fund its efforts to protect the entire watershed. In November, 2013, a Consent Decree was filed and agreed upon.  Click here to review the Consent Decree or click the link in the upper, right-hand column of this page.
 
We were able to secure permit conditions far beyond what the State was otherwise going to require.  Highlights of the significant improvements to earlier NPDES permits that were negotiated by ORK include: 
  •           24% decrease in the discharge limit for COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand)
  •           30-35% decrease in the discharge limit for ammonia
  •           20% decrease in total amount of discharge flowing into the river
  •           A discharge limit for TDS (total dissolved solids) (there wasn’t one previously)
  •           A discharge limit for fecal coliform bacteria (there wasn’t one previously)
  •           Actual discharge limits for sulfide (instead of just reporting the amount)
  •           Numeric limitations on color discharge and frequency for monitoring and reporting
 
The settlement also allow ORK access to King America Finishing’s data and allow us to revisit, and if necessary revise, the permit parameters, should KAF be found to exceed the levels delineated in the permit. This provision is an historic achievement on the part of ORK and its attorneys.  Never before has a permit in the State of Georgia included provisions for the reopening of a permit application should the facility be found in violation.

 

Georgia has 378,000 acres of salt marsh, making up almost one third of the total salt marshland on the eastern seaboard. GreenLaw works to protect coastal marshlands by representing citizens and conservationist groups fighting against overdevelopment of Georgia’s barrier islands & coast. To learn more about our efforts in this program area, click above.
The Coastal Marshlands Protection Act (CMPA) is a state was passed in the 1970's with the help of GreenLaw co-founder Ogdem Doremus.
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