Coastal Surface Water Quality & |
Quality Issues Related to Watershed Land Uses
(1.) Historically, land-based activities within coastal watersheds have altered drainage patterns
and volumes, which is believed to have significantly affected the concentration and distribution
of waterborne chemical pollutants, salinity, and nutrients. In addition to point and non-point
source pollution, deposits of air contaminants (nitrogen, sulfur dioxide, and mercury) from
coal-burning power plants and other sources add to these problems. Some 60% of Georgia's
land area drains into the five coastal river systems.
(2.) Filling and draining of wetlands for forestry and land-development in the region have reduced
the slow-release function of fresh water wetlands - which causes greater extremes (highs and lows)
in flow volumes. Further, a recent analysis based on hydrological modeling of the lower Altamaha
River estimates that groundwater outflow of nearly 2 million gallons a day of freshwater has been
lost due to reduced artesian pressure in underlying aquifers, caused by excessive withdrawal in the
(3.) Local governments, which retain exclusive authority to make decisions about the location, type,
sequence, and proximity (density) of land development, have little capability to predict or evaluate
the consequences of development in terms of non-point source pollution or drainage flow volume and
distribution. Local development regulatory staff is often severely limited in capacity and
technical qualifications. Moreover, their decisions are made without the benefit of having the
means for systemic assessment throughout an entire watershed, nor is there adequate understanding
of the need for it.
(4.)State environmental protection is limited to permit review of activities affecting
'state waters' on a case-by-case basis, including no reliable or consistent procedure for
assessing the cumulative, interactive, and long-term effects of individual permits. Only
about 10% of state waters are sampled, and 60% of these fail to meet federal 'fishable and
(5.) Water quality monitoring is deficient, both in geographic dispersion and pollutant screening.
The EPA National Watershed Assessment reports that data for 3 of 7 key water-quality indicators are
"insufficient" for coastal Georgia rivers; missing data includes information about toxins known to
be harmful to humans and wildlife. At the same time, federal funding for surface water testing
is being cut.
(6.) Commercial fishing, a major source of employment in the region, is confronting a gradual but
significant reduction in the productivity of coastal waters. Harvest of blue crab and brown shrimp
are in severe decline, indicated by the most recent 10-year average being at least 50% below the
average annual yield for the previous 30 years. Recent failure of the Georgia shrimp harvest is
blamed on drought, but it is certainly worsened by various human activities that reduce fresh-water
flow and quality.
(7.) With adequate research, more information about the current conditions of coastal waters in terms
of compromised water quality and altered flow (and their causes) can help improve policies and
procedures needed to achieve greater accountability and capability for controlling these problems.
An in-depth study is needed to determine the content and sequencing of related research and to
estimate the time, funding requirements, and alternative funding sources available to complete it.
(8.) The currency, comprehensiveness, and accuracy of data are essential to support accountable,
consistent, proactive decisions to advance the effectiveness of both local and state government
actions. This includes revisions in the practices of all levels of government and in the means for
coordinating their activities to achieve common objectives for managing natural resources in the
public interest. (Refer to the Performance Audit for the Erosion and Sedimentation Control Program,
(9.) These benefits will enhance the protection of water resources for critical needs in relation
to public health and water supply, recreational activities, wildlife habitat, and regionally
important resource-based economic activities, including commercial fishing and tourism. Nature-based
business is estimated to support one out of every five jobs in the coastal Georgia region, worth at
least $1 billion annually.
(10.) Without a substantial effort to improve management of water resources, further decline in
coastal fisheries can be expected, with related risks to public health caused by increased potential
for: nutrient-loading; eutrophication, low dissolved oxygen; rising concentration of contaminants
in water, sediments, and fish/shellfish; increased salinity; and episodic proliferation of algae and
opportunistic parasites, some of which have the ability to produce deadly neurotoxins.