Originally created 04/27/01

Board fails to address pollution cleanup



SAVANNAH - Heavy concentrations of coliform bacteria and mercury-loaded fish periodically plague the Ogeechee and Savannah rivers.

Both are polluted by runoff from developments, pine tree plantations and farms that sometimes violates federal Clean Water Act standards.

None of that is news.

But those findings and others make up the bulk of two river-basin management plans - one for the Ogeechee and one for the Savannah - approved by the Georgia Board of Natural Resources on Wednesday.

The 16-member appointed board governs the state's Department of Natural Resources, including the Environmental Protection Division. It met in Savannah this week to review a variety of issues, especially water quality.

David Word, the EPD's assistant director, said the plans are state-of-river reports that the federal Environmental Protection Agency requires for each river in the state every five years.

Reports for eight of the state's 14 river basins are done.

There is little, if anything, in either the Ogeechee or Savannah plans, however, that deals with how to clean up the rivers.

Patty McIntosh, coastal director of the Georgia Conservancy, said the plans talk about broad policy but not implementation. That, she said, is a real shortcoming. Mr. McIntosh served on one of the committees that were supposed to have input into the basin plans.

Mr. Word said the EPD will tighten permit requirements for the water systems that dump treated wastewater into the rivers. But when it comes to addressing pollution from nonpoint sources - the bulk of the mess polluting those two rivers and all other waterways in the state - it is up to local governments to take the lead, he said.

When asked what sticks and carrots are in the plans to encourage local officials to address the issue, Mr. Word said, "Very few."

The general public had little opportunity to contribute to the plans, Ms. McIntosh said. She said only a few meetings were held to get public input, and then the public was presented with draft plans, not asked for comment.

Board of Natural Resources member Sally Bethea, an at-large member from Atlanta, also said there should have been more public input.

"The standard of involvement was not enough," Ms. Bethea said. "We need to rethink how we involve people."

But involvement in basin management plans might be a moot point.

While the EPD slowly completes its basin plans, it is under a court order to create yet another standard for polluted streams.

When ongoing actions won't clean up a stream fast enough to meet water quality standards within two years, EPD must develop Total Maximum Daily Loads for each river segment that is still not clean enough. TMDL is jargon for a threshold for specific pollutants in specific stream segments.

No more of a pollutant can be added to a stream until it is below its maximum daily load.

The timber industry opposes creation of TMDLs for soil runoff from its operations, claiming that could shut down small family logging operations.

The Ogeechee River basin covers 5,540 square miles and includes parts of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain. The Savannah River basin covers 10,577 square miles and includes parts of three states.

"The standard of involvement was not enough. We need to rethink how we involve people."- Sally Bethea, Board of Natural Resources member,stating the need for more public input on plans