State environmental officials are putting a lid on new water withdrawals from a coastal aquifer, which supplies drinking water to the Savannah area.

For some time, ocean water has been intruding into the vast Floridan aquifer where much of the region gets its water.

But only now do officials from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division say they have the evidence to mandate a complete ban on new withdrawal permits.

John Sawyer of Savannah's water bureau says the city will need to find new ways to offset water demands.

"Whether that be with surface water or reverse osmosis or another aquifer," Sawyer says. "We're going to have to be a little more creative. You can only conserve so much."

Sawyer says the issue will affect residents and businesses.

"We're just going to have to be more innovative and creative as to how we make supplies available," Sawyer says. "Unfortunately, water is not going to be as cheap and abundant as it has always been."

Spokeswoman Karen Bogans of International Paper, one of the region's largest industrial users of water, says the ban will not affect the paper mill.

"Our environmental staff is engaged with a bi-state group that is working to chart a path toward resolution of the saltwater intrusion issues in the aquifer," says Bogans.

Georgia water withdrawals also have been a point of contention in South Carolina communities that also draw from the aquifer.

Beaufort County's Hilton Head Island has been especially hard hit by saltwater intrusion.

Matthew Brady, a spokesman for Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority in South Carolina, says the agency has invested money in infrastructure to further reduce reliance on the Floridan.

"We support any efforts to reduce our reliance on the upper Floridan aquifer," says Brady.

The ban also applies to Chatham, Bryan, Liberty and southern Effingham counties.

Tags: International Paper, Georgia EPD, GPB News, Beaufort Jasper Water Authority, Savannah Water Bureau, John Sawyer, orlando montoya, larissa allen, floridan aquifer, karen bogans, matthew brady