Published on 03/25/96

Water Crisis Prompts EPD Plan: Public Meetings Set

Salty water problems along the coast and lower pressure in the upper Floridan aquifer are prompting a state plan to manage the groundwater there.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division plan, if it goes into effect, would greatly restrict groundwater use in the area.

"The plan affects a 24-county area of coastal Georgia," said Tony Tyson, an engineer with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

"It will affect industries, cities, farmers and golf courses," Tyson said. "Just about everyone will be affected one way or another."

A series of public meetings will lay out the problem and the EPD plan.

Sessions will be in Savannah March 25 at the Jewish Education Alliance, Kingsland March 26 at City Hall and Rincon March 28 at Town Hall. Further meetings are set for Statesboro April 1 at Ogeechee Tech, Brunswick April 2 at The Casino, and Glennville April 4 at Glennville Middle School.

The Rincon meeting will be at 7 p.m. All others will begin at 7:30.

EPD director Harold F. Reheis urged people to attend the meetings and review and comment on the proposal.

The Floridan aquifer lies beneath all of southeast Georgia and provides about 370 million gallons of water a day to cities, industries and farms.

Saltwater is moving into the upper part north of Hilton Head Island and toward Savannah. A city well in Thunderbolt (Chatham County) has been closed because of saltiness.

Brines have already made part of the aquifer salty in Brunswick and could be moving into the freshwater part there.

Saltwater could also be intruding around Fernandina Beach, Fla., and St. Mary's, Ga.

"All these conditions are due to the amount of pumping being done in southeast Georgia and adjacent areas of South Carolina and Florida," Reheis said.

The EPD plan would affect an area from Burke County in the north to Charlton County in the south, and from the coast to Toombs County.

It would go into effect July 1, 1996, and would cover 10 years. It's based on the principle that current groundwater use shouldn't jeopardize its future use.

Under the plan, EPD would weigh a water use's efficiency, its effect on saltwater intrusion and other water sources available. In the 13 counties most affected, the proposed plan would:

* Reduce pumping by at least 12 million gallons per day.

* Permit no new golf courses or nurseries to use the aquifer. Require all current golf courses or nurseries in Glynn, Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties to explore other water sources.

* Stop issuing groundwater use permits for new or expanded agricultural use.

* Require all city water utilities to reduce per capita use by at least 10 percent of 1995 use by the end of 2005.

* Require any expanded or new use of the aquifer to be offset by reductions. That includes uses by industry, government or private community systems.

* Require all city water utilities to use a water supply plan by the end of 1997.

* Cut Savannah-area industries' groundwater pumping by 10 percent by 2005. And trim public use from 162 to 145 gallons per capita per day by 2005.

"The public needs to come to these meetings," Tyson said."Georgia is serious about managing its water resources.

"But EPD is also serious about wanting people to give them their input of alternative suggestions," he said.

"The proposed plan could have a major impact on certain communities, industries, businesses and farmers," he said. "People need to contribute to the discussion."