Project aims to combine evaluation of major projects in Savannah watershed

Press Release

Several environmental organizations are collaborating to bring reliable environmental management and planning throughout the Savannah River watershed, which is shared by growing populations in South Carolina and Georgia. They believe this will be made possible by combining the use of information to account for interactive and cumulative project impacts on water supply, water quality, fisheries, and other aspects of public interest, including health.

Among these projects are the Savannah harbor and channel deepening, the liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility at Elba Island, proposed doubling of nuclear energy produced at Plant Vogtle near Augusta, the construction of a new port across from Savannah in Jasper County, South Carolina, development of the floodplains, and the prospect of water being removed from the Savannah River to supply the needs of other watersheds, including those in Atlanta. "A new, comprehensive approach to planning and evaluating major projects along the Savannah River is needed if we are to ensure environmental quality," says Savannah resident Steve Willis. Willis is both a leading environmental advocate currently representing the local Sierra Club group and a candidate for Chatham County commissioner.

The approach Wills describes is known as the Savannah River Basin Initiative (SRBI). At present Sierra Club, Center for a Sustainable Coast, and Savannah Riverkeeper officially support the SRBI.

The SRBI proposes a new public program committed to bringing responsible management to the Savannah River Basin (SRB). The SRB encompasses the entire Savannah River watershed, from its source in the mountains of Georgia the Carolinas to Tybee Island, and throughout its 10,577 square-mile drainage area.

As part of their proposal, SRBI proponents advocate a two-state agreement between Georgia and South Carolina that would include a wide-ranging program of analysis, planning, and resource management. Under this approach, the needs and sustainable capacity of the entire Savannah River Basin would be reconciled through science-based decision-making and shared accountability.

Js saavid Kyler, executive director and co-founder of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, agrees with Willis. "To promote the long-term quality and flow of the Savannah River, we simply cannot afford to ignore the combined impacts of multiple projects using inter-connected natural resources," Kyler asserts. "My 30 years of analyzing regional conditions and trends as a professional planner and public-policy sponsor make it clear that we must carefully integrate project evaluation, permitting, and monitoring," he adds.

SRBI advocates say that the City of Savannah and the surrounding area are critically affected by the quantity and quality of water coming down the Savannah, as are our fisheries, the safety of navigation and industrial water supplies in the lower river. To balance these factors integrated management of the Savannah River Basin is fundamental to the publicıs health and economic prospects, according to their rationale.

"Our future depends on getting smarter in making decisions about using these limited natural resources. The more we broaden the assessment, the more reliable, accountable, and controllable the consequences will be," declares Frank Carl, Executive Director of Savannah Riverkeeper. "And the sooner we upgrade our methods, the more chance we have of meeting the needs of a growing population and economy," he adds.

The SRBI is being refined and advanced by this collaborative group of environmental conservation organizations that are committed to monitoring the condition of the SRB and to carefully scrutinizing the actions of all Georgia, South Carolina, and Federal agencies as they manage a Savannah watershed threatened by numerous major projects.

These threats include dangerously low dissolved oxygen, thermal pollution and consumptive removal of water for energy production and other industrial cooling, and rapidly escalating river pollution caused by contaminated stormwater runoff - all of which can deplete fisheries, jeopardize the health of coastal marshes, and spoil economic opportunities.

Unless properly controlled, these threats to our area could irreparably degrade the fragile coastal and marsh river basin ecology in the same way the Chesapeake Bay, Southern Louisianna, and the Everglades have harmed by ill-informed, misguided, and poorly managed government projects.

The SRBI supporters advocate, at minimum:
  1. Development of a comprehensive, reliable, integrated, and continually updated database that is available to the public and used for decision making processes.

  2. A long-range plan for conserving, evaluating, and responsibly using river resources.

  3. A board of formally appointed and accountable officials (with needed staff) representing the people of Georgia and South Carolina, tasked with maintaining, improving, and implementing the SRB long-range plan.

Supporters of the SRBI are committed to finding reasonable ways to sustain the future health and safety of the river. They say that the health of the Savannah River and our general welfare can only be achieved through an integrated, comprehensive accounting of the effects of our use of the river.

SRBI advocates hold that rather than continuing with the incremental, case-by-case consideration of individual projects, as is now being done by public agencies at all levels, we must find resourceful ways to achieve better results by broadening the scope of our analyses, blending all available and applicable information, and modeling to track potential consequences of proposed projects.

The three organizing groups strongly urge government leaders to withhold approval of major, high-impact projects, such as those listed above, until an integrated, well-coordinated structure of decision-making is adopted. They estimate that this could take up to two years but assure that it would be well worth the effort.
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