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Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - 7:54am

Water Councils Need Information

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division says the Savannah River basin has enough water to meet current demands for industry, drinking water and power generation.

The EPD presented their findings on water availability and quality at a meeting in Augusta on Tuesday of five regional water councils who share water resources along the Savannah and Ogeechee river basins as well as aquifers such as the Floridan, the state's largest supply of groundwater. The state's ten regional water councils will develop long-range plans to manage statewide water resources, outside of metro Atlanta, as demand for water in Georgia grows.

But while the reports are a starting point, they do not factor in projections for future demands, such as two proposed new nuclear reactors at Plant Vogtle in Waynesboro, population increases and changes in withdrawal amounts that South Carolina takes from the Savannah River to supply its drinking water needs. It also does not include any forecast for demand on the Savannah that might occur if metro Atlanta loses Lake Lanier as a major drinking water source. Council members say that information is crucial to the water plan.

EPD says the forecasts will come sometime this year. Some council members have argued that the EPD team studying Georgia's river basins has been underfunded.

As for the findings, the Savannah river basin, which is regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has been able to maintain enough water through reservoirs and management of flows. The Ogeechee river basin, which is regulated by the state, is also currently able to meet demand most of the time, but not during droughts.

As for water quality, the EPD noted that in the lower part of the Savannah River, assimilation capacity -- a measure of a body of water's ability to purify itself of pollutants naturally -- is deficient. That news is not new, but will be a factor council members will have to consider since industries upstream in Augusta may have to make costly changes that would reduce the amount of waste they release into the river.

The EPD is presenting its reports on water quantity and quality in Georgia's river basins and aquifers during the next two weeks.