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Wednesday, May 5, 2010 - 9:18am

Ga.-S.C. Panel Weighs Water To Avoid Litigation

Updated: 4 years ago.
Paper mills, such as International Paper's, are major water users in the Savannah area. They, other businesses and Savannah residents might have to pay more for water in the future, since the Floridan Aquifer is becoming salty. (photo Orlando Montoya)

Georgia and South Carolina officials could come to an agreement Thursday on key scientific data that could go along way to smooth relations over water in the Savannah River basin.

The two states hope to avoid the kind of water war that has Florida, Georgia and Alabama in court.

A bi-state committee is looking into several issues.

Among them is how to stop saltwater intrusion into the Floridan Aquifer, the Savannah area's undergound water source.

The aquifer is becoming saltier because it's being used so heavily.

The committee will consider approving scientific modeling of the aquifer, with huge implications, says Dean Moss, Director of South Carolina's Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority.

"What we're seeing in the modeling indicates that if we really want to stop the saltwater intrusion, we got to make some very drastic reductions in our pumping on both sides," Moss says. "Having agreement on the science in this kind of situation is unusual and hugely important."

Georgia's Environmental Protection Division allows the City of Savannah to withdraw 23.5 million gallons from the aquifer each day.

If that amount were lowered, Savannah would have to draw more water from the Savannah River.

Drawing more water from the river would cost more for area industries and residents, because treating river water is more expensive than pumping it from the aquifer.

Savannah's water chief says, if the committee does approve anything, it still has to go up political ladders in both states.

"The models are one tool for policy makers to use to determine sustainable withdrawal levels," says John Sawyer, Director of the City of Savannah's Water Bureau. "But no model can give you exact representations, nor predict exact occurences."

The committee's goal is to ease the potentially explosive process of telling water users that they might have to make some tough choices to avoid doing long-term harm to the region's water supplies, including the river and the aquifer.

The committee was appointed by Governors Mark Sanford and Sonny Perdue.

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