EPD: Actually, About That PFOA Testing…

2 02 2009

John Sepulvado | GPB

For ten months, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division publicly said it was testing Northwest Georgia drinking water for a likely carcinogenic chemical. But now, the EPD says it never tested for PFOA in drinking water intakes.

The revelation comes after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency set a drinking water advisory for PFOA.

The chemical is found in high amounts in the Conasauga River, a source of drinking water for Northwest Georgia, including Rome. After a series of critical media stories were aired and published, the EPD announced it would test drinking water intakes for the compound. And for the past ten months, officials confirmed testing would take place.

Now, the project manager, Jeremy Smith, tells GPB there has been “a mix-up,” and that another EPD official misspoke. No further explanation was given. The EPD has no plans to test the drinking water.

The agency is still testing fish pulled from the river for PFOA, and those results are expected by spring.

Threats to Georgia’s growth

2 12 2008

BUDDY CARTER | Savannah Morning News

On Nov. 4, Barack Obama was elected as the 44th president of the United States.

On Nov. 20, U.S. Rep. Henry A. Waxman, D-Calif., was elected chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U. S. House of Representatives.

What do these two events have to do with Georgia’s future growth?

Some will say nothing; others will say plenty.

Over the past decade, Georgia has been one of the fastest growing states in the nation. From 2000 through 2006, Georgia’s population grew by 14.4 percent, helping to make it the ninth most populous state in the nation.

We would not have been able to grow without the natural resources necessary to support such an increase. Water and sewer capacities are prerequisites for growth in any area.

For years, the state of Georgia has been mired in a lawsuit with the states of Alabama and Florida regarding water flows in the Chattahoochee River and how much water is to be taken out of Lake Lanier in Northeast Georgia for the city of Atlanta’s drinking needs.

The tri-state water war took on national significance during the recently completed presidential campaign, when then-candidate Obama announced during a campaign stop in Florida that he would make “protecting Florida’s water resources” a priority in his administration.

The comment was quickly interpreted by incumbent U. S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and other high ranking state officials as meaning Mr. Obama favored Florida’s water needs over that of Georgia and Alabama.

A final decision on this acrimonious suit should be made in a Florida court sometime next year. For Georgia and its capital city, the ramifications are resounding. Without the ability to control its future water supply, as well as hold on to the water it already has, growth in the region will be stymied.

Meanwhile, Rep. Waxman’s ascent to the chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is hailed by many as an indication of the extreme environmental policies that can be expected to come out of Washington in the coming years.

Rep. Waxman, who was viewed as a more liberal choice than the former chairman whom he ousted, is expected to work with the Obama administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress to push for environmental policy reform.

While all Georgians are concerned with protecting our precious natural resources, there is legitimate concern that environmental extremism could have a significant impact on future growth.

One such example is the Savannah harbor, home of the Georgia Ports Authority and viewed by many as the economic engine of the state. For years now, the ports have been lobbying for the deepening of the Savannah River channel to accommodate the larger ships calling on American ports.

Without this deepening, future growth of this vital economic stimulus could spell disaster to growth not only in Coastal Georgia, but to all parts of the state.

Another consideration affecting the ports in Savannah is the water quality standards set forth by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. Currently, the EPD has set the total maximum daily load for dissolved oxygen for the Savannah Harbor at the same level as a mountain trout stream in North Georgia, which is generally recognized as an unattainable level.

Read on here.

Flint River dam proposals revive statewide controversy

1 12 2008

| Macon.com

THOMASTON — Some days it seems like the Flint River flows backward.

Back three decades, in fact, to a time when damming the gentle Flint was a roiling controversy where it flowed through Upson County.  Those were the days when Thomaston was still in the business of clothing Americans and transporting them on B.F. Goodrich tires. Mill jobs were plentiful, and a series of three big lakes nearby seemed like icing on the cake.

In the 1970s, sculpting the landscape with mammoth engineering projects was viewed as the culmination of human achievement, and Georgia environmentalists were only starting to organize. But with the help of Mercer University students whose research showed a lack of demand for lake recreation in the area, river advocates prompted then Gov. Jimmy Carter to scuttle the dam project.

In the intervening years, Sprewell Bluff, the location for one of the big dams, became a state park. Most people thought the dam project was as long gone as the ’70s fuel shortage.

It was. But now both are back, though the reasons have changed.

Today the chief justification for Flint River dams has switched from hydroelectric power and recreation to water supply. Nonetheless, the possible economic benefits of nearby reservoirs aren’t lost on Thomaston residents, some of whom are more enthusiastic now that the local economy has been drained by factory closures.

Environmentalism has a broader appeal in Georgia today. Carter helped announce a Flint Riverkeeper advocacy organization this summer to mobilize against a revived dam project.

Republican congressmen Lynn Westmoreland and Nathan Deal sought $10 million this year in federal funding for a study of reauthorizing the Flint River dams. And this summer, the first draft of metro Atlanta’s newest water supply plan called for two dams on the Flint after 2035.

Last month, the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority released a report on the most immediate possibilities for expanding the state’s water supply. The report highlighted 16 existing reservoirs that could be expanded, including four on tributaries of the Flint River nearest Atlanta.

Brian Robinson, Westmoreland’s press secretary, said funding for studying the dam was put in the water resources bill during the last congressional session, but no action was taken. He said Westmoreland will probably request the money again.

Read on here.

Lanier: How low will it go?

30 11 2008

By Debbie Gilbert | gainesvilletimes.com

Lake Lanier is approaching a historic moment, but it’s not a cause for celebration.On Dec. 26 last year, Lanier hit 1,050.79 feet above sea level, the lowest point since the reservoir was completed in the late 1950s. Normal full pool is 1,071 feet.

With Georgia mired in drought for a third year, Lanier has failed to rebound during 2008 and is now in exactly the same situation as a year ago.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projected that without significant rain, Lanier will drop below its historic lowest level sometime between Dec. 5 and Dec. 12.

But here’s the difference: After the lake hit 1,050.79 last year, it began to slowly rise again. This time, it’s likely that the water level will continue to drop.

How much lower will it fall? And when, if ever, will the lake get back up to normal?
Even the experts have no idea.

“It’s hard to make predictions,” said Lt. Col. Daren Payne, deputy commander of the corps’ Mobile district, which manages Lake Lanier.

“With this being a prolonged drought, you could be seeing a couple years before the lake gets up to full pool. On the other hand, if we get a deluge next spring like what they had in the Midwest this year, it’s possible it could recover sooner.”

The corps issues a forecast every Tuesday, calculating the expected levels of Lanier for the subsequent four weeks. But Payne said the computer models do not factor in rain, because that’s a variable that cannot be accurately predicted.

In general terms, though, the next three months are expected to bring less rain than usual.

“Our staff weather guy is not seeing a wetter than normal winter,” said Payne.

Even a normal winter would be welcome, according to state climatologist David Stooksbury. “We’ve been dry for so long that people have forgotten what normal (winter) rainfall is like,” he said. “This time of year we should be getting about an inch a week.”

That amount would be helpful, he said, but it’s not going to make up for a 20-foot deficit.

“Even with normal rainfall this winter and spring, I do not see Lanier back to full pool next summer,” he said. “Any rain we get is going to (bring) some improvement in flow. But even with normal rain, we’re just not going to get enough water into the basin to fill up the lake.”

Stooksbury said he is concerned about the long-term outlook, and he wonders whether what’s happening in Georgia is part of an atmospheric shift on a global scale.

Read on here.

Georgia asks for review of water war litigation

24 11 2008

by Dana Beyerle | New York Times

The Justice Department doesn’t like Georgia asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review water war litigation, in effect saying a lower court ruling favoring Alabama and Florida should remain.

The Justice Department in court opposes Georgia’s request for review by the Supreme Court of a District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the settlement between Georgia and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that would have assigned portions of Lake Lanier for Atlanta’s water supply was illegal.

The appellate court said such a major change in Lake Lanier’s operation could not be done without the approval of Congress. Atlanta needs the water that eventually flows into Alabama and Georgia, creating a common state line. Georgia in August asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the D.C. court’s decision.

Home won’t be demolished

The architectural review board in Montgomery won’t let the former home of Gov. Don Siegelman be demolished, even though it would cost more to repair it than it’s worth.

The board last week denied a request to demolish the home in the edge of the historic Old Cloverdale neighborhood south of downtown Montgomery. The residence also was the childhood home of former Montgomery Mayor Emory Folmar. The home is marked by a historic marker that points out the connections to Folmar and Siegelman.

A contractor said it would cost $166,000 to repair the home, built in 1935. It’s valued for tax purposes at $148,500. Siegelman and his family lived in the home from 1979 until he was elected governor in 1998 and moved into the Governor’s Mansion the next year. He sold the home that year for $250,000, twice its appraised value, to a man whom Siegelman later put on a state board, the New York Times Regional Newspapers first reported.

Read on here.

Plan for sonar range off Georgia/Florida in dispute as endangering whales

17 11 2008


By Steve Patterson | The Times-Union

A Navy plan to build a training range for sonar exercises off Jacksonville’s coast is worrying Florida and Georgia environmental agencies.  Officials in both states have told the Navy that ship traffic from the training range could harm endangered right whales, which spend the winter offshore raising their young.

“The waters offshore of Georgia and northeast Florida are the only known calving ground for the species. Protection of the right whale calving habitat is critical for population recovery,” Georgia Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Noel Holcomb wrote in a response to a draft Navy report on the project.

Today is the start of the whales’ calving season, which lasts until April 15. There are about 350 remaining right whales.

Training less during calving season is the best way to avoid harming them, said recommendations from Holcomb’s agency and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Federal rules protecting right whales treat the area close to Jacksonville’s shoreline as “critical habitat” for the giant mammals. The training range would be about 50 miles offshore, outside that critical zone.

But agencies in both states argued that whales are found throughout the area, not just near the beach. One whale fitted with an electronic monitor in 2005 traveled 73 miles east of shore, the Conservation Commission noted.

The Navy named Jacksonville in September as its top choice for a training site, after weighing four Atlantic coast locations. Ships, submarines, planes and helicopters would train there for anti-submarine warfare.

The 500-square-mile range would be fitted with underwater sensors to track vessels’ movements. That’s supposed to help trainers critique the crews’ performance quickly so they learn more from each exercise. Without such a system, training critiques are sometimes filed weeks later, after reviewers piece together data recorded on each vessel.

Read on here.

Regional disputes highlight water shortage seminar

7 11 2008

By DEIRDRE CONNER, The Times-Union

That was the message underlying an annual environmental seminar, which aimed to bring a national perspective this year to the local water conflict over the St. Johns River.

The Jacksonville University-Florida Coastal School of Law symposium held Thursday brought experts from around the country to talk about water shortages. Among the most-discussed: regional disputes that highlight the differences between water policy in Florida and its neighbor to the north, Georgia.

In the West, regional conflicts over a water shortages abound. Even in the more humid East, water crises are growing. Georgia’s hit home in Florida this year when a dire water shortage in the Atlanta area embroiled Florida, Georgia and Alabama in a tri-state legal battle over water supply and the environment.

“It’s important that the states get along and manage their water resources together,” said Lee DeHihns, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator and water law expert in Georgia.

Sustainability didn’t enter into Georgia’s formerly 1800s-era legal standards until 2004, he said. For the first time this year, the state set up a system of water management districts, but he said the effort has languished because of budget cuts.

From a national perspective, Florida’s 30-year-old water management laws – despite some flaws – are quite comprehensive, experts agreed.

Georgia “doesn’t do squat compared to Florida,” said Jacob Varn, a private attorney and former general counsel for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The plans established recently in Georgia need to be implemented, he said, and Florida should follow suit by better enforcing the laws it already has.

Varn called the battle over water withdrawals from the St. Johns in Central Florida a red herring. North Florida should be more concerned with groundwater withdrawals, and the risk of it drying up or being contaminated from South Georgia paper mills and other industry.

He and most speakers at the symposium called for all parts of Florida and Georgia to do more to use water efficiently by conserving water, deciding what kind of use is most beneficial, and reusing wastewater from sewers.

“This is a global issue. We’ve all got to think about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” said Quinton White, executive director of JU’s Marine Science Research Institute. “Efficiency and conservation have got to become a way of life.”