Our Sunday story package on the Savannah River focused largely on the relationship between Georgia and South Carolina and how those states will jointly manage the 350-mile river and its resources.
As part of our reporting for that piece, we sent Gov. Nathan Deal a series of questions - and received detailed responses through his press secretary, Stephanie Mayfield.
We used some of those responses in our recent story, but since we didn't have room for everything, I am copying below our questions and the answers we received.
The discussion mentioned "TMDLs" which is an acronym for "total maximum daily load," a term Georgians will become more familiar with in coming years. In the way of background, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concluded some years ago that water in Savannah Harbor is deficient in dissolved oxygen.
The agency's proposed remedy was to limit oxygen-depleting discharges such as municipal and industrial wastewater in the Augusta area, more than 200 miles upstream.
The plan requires development of "total maximum daily loads" for oxygen demanding pollutants from wastewater, and the recommended TMDL was - at least on paper - just a tiny fraction above zero.
In theory, the EPA's edict of near-zero would force cities to shut down all wastewater programs, but such a rule was deemed unenforceable. However, because the river is technically in violation of the federal Clean Water Act, all wastewater permitting matters are on hold until a new oxygen standard is adopted.
The low oxygen issue has also become a factor in the proposed expansion of Savannah Harbor, where mitigation measures such as oxygen-injecting "bubblers" have been proposed. Involved in the discussions, in addition to Georgia and the EPA, are officials with South Carolina's Department of Health & Environmental Control.
Here are the questions and answers from Gov. Deal's office, with responses in bold type:
1. Back in 2005, the governors of both South Carolina and Georgia each
created - by their own respective executive orders - a Governor's
Committee on the Savannah River. Each group's mission was to meet and
communicate with counterparts across the river. As Georgia's new
governor, do you plan to keep that committee intact and active? Are
there any issues in particular you believe will need more attention in
the coming year?
A consensus memorandum prepared by the Savannah River Committees of Georgia and South Carolina dated January 7, 2011 lists three major issues:
- Salt water intrusion into the fresh water aquifer under Beaufort and Hilton Head, South Carolina.
- Impending Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) limits on wastewater discharges.
- Creating a framework for allocation and management of the water resources of the Savannah River Basin.
The memo concludes with the statement: "We look forward to serving Governor-elect Deal and Governor-elect Haley in creating continued progress on the shared Savannah River basin and presenting final recommendations and solutions."
2. Regarding Savannah Harbor and its deepening proposal, how do you think
this project affects relations between South Carolina and Georgia, in
terms of sharing water resources in the Savannah River? How important is
the harbor project to all of Georgia?
It is Georgia's hope that the Savannah Harbor project will have no impact on our relationship with South Carolina regarding shared water resources in the Savannah River. We have worked very well with South Carolina on other high profile issues such as saltwater intrusion, the Savannah Harbor TMDL, the Savannah River Comprehensive Study and other water availability issues. Both states have a good understanding of the river and harbor and we hope to maintain that productive relationship.
3. It has long been known that Georgia and its cities and industries now
use approximately 95 percent of the Savannah River's waste assimilation
capacity, leaving barely 5 percent to South Carolina. Do authorities in
Georgia have any solutions for making such allocations more equitable?
A June 2010 US EPA TMDL was issued which established some capacity in the river and harbor. At that time, it was decided by GA, SC, EPA and the dischargers that the dischargers from both sides of the river would form a stakeholder group to develop a strategy for allocating the loading established in the June 2010 TMDL. Work has been underway for several months now by this stakeholder group. Ultimately, GA, SC and EPA will need to review and approve an allocation strategy which will then be placed in a final TMDL this summer.
4. Predictably, this is perhaps the most important question for folks on
this side of the state. During the campaign, there were assertions you
would support interbasin transfers and later you clarified you would
not, under any circumstance, consider any plan to move water from the
Savannah River Basin to any of the metro Atlanta counties. If the Lake
Lanier situation cannot be resolved favorably for Atlanta, is there any
scenario where obtaining water from the Savannah River Basin could be