The Economic Importance of Water Conservation in Coastal Georgia

AUTHOR: David Kyler
NOTE: Although most of the water in power production is returned to rivers after being used for cooling, much is lost to steam - a minimum of around 20% of all water used in Georgia literally goes up in smoke every day. Further, desalination is very energy intensive. This means that desalination itself consumes much more freshwater than it makes, so at this stage it is not a practical alternative and would compound air pollution problems in the process.

Surface water, ground water, and wetlands are interconnected resources that are vital to our coastal ecosystems and jobs. These water resources are already polluted and over-exploited. We need to get smarter about water management in coastal Georgia - sooner rather than later. This makes good sense for both our environment and economy.

Steps needed include:

(1) Adopting and enforcing an aggressive water conservation policy by requiring applicants to achieve greater water-use efficiency by implementing conservation plans, and

(2) Achieving better non-point pollution control through selection and design of building sites, and retaining more natural vegetation.*

*Conservation plans are adopted in the 24 counties that use the Floridan Aquifer, but EPD does not refer to them in making permitting decisions.

We must choose economic development options that are compatible with our natural environment and the proven, traditional nature-based business sector - having a growth potential beyond most every other alternative while preserving our quality of life within the sustainable capacity of natural systems. To ensure that this happens we should

(3) Adopt criteria for investing state loans and grants for job creation in ways that are environmentally responsible as indicated by water use, water protection, and sustainability.

The Value of Nature-Based Business in Coastal Georgia
  • Recreational fishing in coastal Georgia generated at least $335 Million in business activity during 2000.
  • If this region reflects the national average (nature-based tourism averaging one-quarter of total tourism), at least $450 Million a year in our tourism business activity is derived from natural resources.
  • Commercial fishing, while in decline, is still a major economic factor in coastal Georgia between $200 and $250 Million in total annual business impact is estimated. (With proper steps, we can recover reliable jobs and income.)
  • This combined annual total of a $1 Billion nature-based business sector supports an estimated 40,000 jobs in the region alone. Our communities, our quality of life, and thousands of coastal families depend on them.
  • Because so much water is pumped for industry, if more efficient methods were adopted to reduce water use by just 10%, enough water would be saved to support population growth for decades without further jeopardizing water resources, aquatic life, or related jobs.
  • Statewide, in 1995 total industrial use was 675.8 million gallons a day - equivalent to the water needed to support a population of nearly 4.7 million. A mere 10% cutback by industry would meet the household water needs of 470,000 people.
  • The lion's share of total Georgia water use is for power generation. Of the total water use estimated in Georgia in 1995, more than half of all water withdrawn from rivers and wells was used to generate electricity. Modest conservation steps saving just 10% in this sector would support more than 2 million residents. And we should not allow more power plants in Georgia unless they are clean, efficient and needed by in-state energy users.
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