Statement Regarding the Proposed Use of the Lower Floridan Aquifer in Bryan County

Since its inception, the Center for a Sustainable Coast has advocated the improved use of scientific information in making decisions affecting the region's natural resources. Accordingly, we were encouraged by the steps taken in the 1997 adoption of the Interim Strategy and by the General Assembly's support of research to help resolve critical problems caused by improper use of our public water resources-the Sound Science Initiative. We saw these endeavors as advancements toward a more rational and objective basis for allocating and protecting Georgia's vital natural resources.

Given the protocol for water resource protection established by the Interim Strategy and the importance of using science to inform key decisions, we must object to the issuance of a permit for using the Lower Floridan aquifer at this time. Although it may not violate the legal language of the Interim Strategy, permitting the development of the Lower Floridan does violate the principles and intent of the Strategy as public policy, and if implemented, puts coastal ground-water resources at additional risk. Furthermore, use of the Lower Floridan is not an option recommended in the publicly adopted water supply plan for Bryan County. The plan, developed as part of the Interim Strategy, was to be used to guide permitting decisions, but evidently has been disregarded in both Richmond Hill's request to the use the Lower Floridan aquifer and EPD's recommendation to permit it.

In the absence of reasonably conclusive scientific information to support such a permit, the Center for a Sustainable Coast strongly advises use of the "precautionary principle." Under this principle, when there are significant risks and science is uncertain, no action to disturb existing conditions should be permitted. Further, this principle implies that the burden of proof should be shifted away from those who seek to protect resources and toward those proposing any action that may be harmful to the public interest.

The proof offered to support the proposed withdrawal in this case is simply inadequate and misleading. Key hydrology experts believe that the testing done at the Richmond Hill site is flawed and insufficient. Moreover, the latest USGS aquifer modeling and a recent USGS report (Falls and others, 2001) suggest leakage between the Upper and Lower Floridan in this vicinity. The only objective conclusion from these considerations is that the decision must be based on higher standards of assessment.

Not only do we urge the application of the precautionary principle in this instance, but we also suggest that precautionary policy can and should be consistently used in all comparable situations to prevent significant risk to environmental quality. We believe that the adoption and use of this policy is well within the discretion granted to State authorities having jurisdiction over natural resources under existing State and Federal laws. And finally, the Center holds that the precautionary principle is fully consistent with the rationale underlying the Sound Science Initiative and, in fact, further validates that effort.

To issue the permit for withdrawal from the Lower Floridan would set a dangerous precedent by backtracking on adopted water resource policy and planning, even if it did not result in further depletion of our principal aquifer. Given the distinct possibility that such an outcome could result, the proposal is made even more unacceptable. For these reasons, we oppose EPD's permit for the use of the Lower Floridan until sufficient research is completed to support a more reliable decision.

In a related and equally troubling issue, at the December 2001 public meeting at Richmond Hill, EPD staff announced that, despite the limit of 36 million gallons a day (MGD), adopted to protect the Upper Floridan aquifer from overuse outside the capped areas (Glynn, Chatham, southern Bryan, and southern Effingham Counties), EPD estimates that they have allowed more than 46 MGD of permitted use. That is an excess of nearly 30% above the limit publicly adopted in 1997 as part of the Interim Strategy. Surely Georgians deserve more consistent and reliable enforcement of adopted State water policy. Developing the Lower Floridan aquifer in the proposed area will further exacerbate that overage, as pumping from the Lower Floridan affects the entire Floridan aquifer system, including the Upper Floridan aquifer.

Given (1) the preponderance of evidence suggesting connectivity between the Upper and Lower Floridan aquifers in the project area, (2) the inadequacy of testing measures used at the Richmond Hill site, (3) the profound deviation of EPD's recommended action from both the intent of the Interim Strategy and the specific findings in the Bryan County Water Supply Plan, and (4) the relevance of approved and pending research in significantly reducing the risks of the proposed action, the Center for a Sustainable Coast vigorously objects to the issuance of the permit under consideration for using the Lower Floridan aquifer.

Submitted by

David Kyler, Executive Director
Center for a Sustainable Coast
January 2, 2002

Additional Comments on the Proposed Withdrawal from the Lower Floridan Aquifer
in Richmond Hill, Georgia

On behalf of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, I submit the following to be added to our previous written and spoken testimony on the subject proposal.

  • The most practical way to provide potable water for new uses is by making existing uses less wasteful. It is widely acknowledged that marginal improvements in water use efficiency can be achieved in most use categories with nominal effort and expense. Municipal systems in national studies have been found to commonly suffer from faulty lines, fixtures, and meters that lose as much as 50% of the water pumped. Although coastal industries have made improvements in water efficiency over past years, they remain the dominant water users on the coast, and there has never been a comprehensive study to determine the feasibility of achieving further improvements. Regionally, a 5% reduction in industrial water use alone (not including power generation) is equivalent to a 20% reduction by all other users - enough water to serve well over 150,000 residents. A modest 10% improvement in efficiency among all existing users would 'free up' enough water from the Upper Floridan aquifer to support a doubling of existing residential users. Even if costs for some users to achieve this improvement would be substantial, certainly the amount would be lower than the total estimated for the well, processing facility, and treatment of brackish water from the Lower Floridan aquifer in Richmond Hill. Rather than promote risky tampering with the Lower Floridan that threatens the Upper Floridan by issuing this permit for a quick-fix solution to a systemic problem, why not exercise appropriate leadership as a state natural resource agency by adopting a plan for improving efficiency of existing water use?

  • Reverse osmosis processing that would be needed to treat water withdrawn from the Lower Floridan aquifer is energy intensive, resource degrading, and economically irresponsible. Using conventional technologies for energy production, enormous amounts of water are required to produce electricity - power generation is the single largest category of water use in Georgia. Furthermore, a local power plant, Plant Kraft, is an obsolete coal-burning facility that generates excessive quantities of sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and mercury - all undisputed pollutants that are already threatening regional air and water quality, at the risk of public health and nature-based businesses. This means that to extract and treat brackish water from the Lower Floridan aquifer, still more water would be used for steam generation and cooling at the power plant, while also contributing to the contamination of air, land, water, fish and other wildlife. Indirectly, this cycle of impact would further threaten nature-based businesses, which now support about one fifth of the region's employment (around 40,000 jobs according to our estimate). The consequences of this proposal when fully examined are far more significant than what is suggested by the superficial assessment conducted by the applicant and EPD. Surely the citizens of Georgia deserve a more complete and accurate analysis of proposals for using public resources, especially when proposed new uses threaten the interests of responsible, locally owned nature-based businesses and the communities that depend on them.

  • Issuing this permit is a troubling deviation from past efforts to use science to support wise decisions. The Interim Strategy for the Upper Floridan Aquifer was developed and adopted through a public process with broad representation, which led to agreement on limitations of further withdrawals pending the availability of more reliable information based on a 7-year research program. This program will not be completed for several more years, yet EPD has taken steps that violate the spirit of the publicly adopted Interim Strategy. First, EPD has issued permits that resulted in greatly exceeding the adopted limit for additional withdrawal from the Upper Floridan (set at a maximum of 36 million gallons a day, and now estimated at about 46 million gallons a day). Second, by developing and adopting a 'supplement' to the Interim Strategy without public participation until after it was issued, EPD has circumvented the public involvement that ensures state policy serving the interests of all citizens. And finally, despite the value of pending scientific research, without the value of such information, EPD has recommended proceeding with the issuance of a permit that puts other resources and pre-existing resource-users in harm's way. This EPD recommendation, if adopted, is likely to encourage application for additional permits for withdrawal from the Lower Floridan, which would compound and possibly amplify risks to coastal resources. Each of these actions by EPD suggests a failure to implement adopted policy competently and in good faith. Combined, they represent a disappointing and confounding pattern of performance that raises fundamental questions about the credibility, objectivity, and function of EPD in protecting the public interest consistent with the agency's legal obligations under state and federal law.

    For all of the above reasons, the Center for a Sustainable Coast unconditionally opposes the proposed permit.

    David Kyler, Executive Director
    March 28, 2002
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