Clean Water in Georgia

Protecting Georgia’s Rivers, Lakes and Wetlands

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, supports commerce, 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 the waters of our State 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:

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.

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: 

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.