Frequently Asked Questions about the
Georgia Water Coalition
(Updated Winter 2015)

1. Who and what is the Georgia Water Coalition?

The Georgia Water Coalition is an alliance of more than 200 organizations committed to ensuring that water is managed fairly for all Georgians and protected for future generations. The coalition was formed in 2002 to bring together concerned citizens and groups from around the state. The Georgia Water Coalition produces a report every two years outlining its recommendations for water management in Georgia. Click to see our reports or a full list of the Georgia Water Coalition partner organizations.

2. What does the Georgia Water Coalition want?

The Georgia Water Coalition's mission is to protect and care for Georgia's water resources, which are essential for sustaining Georgia's prosperity, providing clean and abundant drinking water, preserving diverse aquatic habitats for wildlife and recreation, and strengthening property values.

3. Why has water availability in Georgia become so critical in recent years?

For many years, Georgia has been blessed with an abundant supply of water. This heritage of plentiful, clean, flowing water has fueled growth and has made our state an attractive location for businesses and families. However, we now face a new reality. Increased water consumption and tri-state water use issues, as well as extended droughts in the 1990's and early 2000's, have made it clear that water is a finite resource. Georgia is now at a crossroads.

4. What about all the rainy years? If there is no longer a drought, then why is water management still such a big deal?

Continued population growth in and around Metro Atlanta and other parts of Georgia puts increasing stresses on our water supplies. Meanwhile, the tri-state water negotiations with Alabama and Florida may affect the distribution and availability of Georgia's water.

5. Georgia completed its first ever statewide and regional water management planning in 2011. How can state and regional water planning ensure the protection of natural systems?

The Georgia Water Coalition believes that effective water management requires the opportunity for citizens to participate in regional water planning that is: (a) based on watersheds, river basins and aquifers, (b) informed by the best available scientifically sound data, (c) reliant on uniform, consistently applied and enforceable standards, and (d) tied to implementation, including an adaptive management process.

6. What's wrong with building water supply reservoirs? Why is the Georgia Water Coalition advocating that they be considered only as a last resort for water supply?

Many people view reservoirs as great places providing recreation, drinking water, and flood control. However, reservoirs also upset the ecological balance of river systems by creating artificial barriers to natural water flow and movement of aquatic organisms. These barriers result in increased siltation and often increased pollution downstream, since less water is available to dilute and flush out pollutant levels and to recharge groundwater aquifers.

Furthermore, reservoirs can actually waste water, since the increased surface area of lakes results in higher levels of evaporation, so that water leaves the river basin and does not return. As an example, one study has found that the existence of Lake Lanier has increased water loss in its land area by 33 percent, an amount equal to the daily water supply for about 170,000 Georgia residents. [See Mary Davis, et al., Reservoirs in Georgia: Meeting Water Supply Needs While Minimizing Impacts (Gail Cowie ed., University of Georgia River Basin Science and Policy Center 2002).]

Reservoirs also reduce the stream flow downstream of the dam or intake structure, resulting in a permanent state of drought flow on some rivers and creeks. There is a particular risk of this until Georgia establishes a permanent instream flow policy that protects the biological, chemical, and physical integrity of our waterways.

For these reasons, the Georgia Water Coalition does not favor new reservoirs as a quick fix to the water-supply problem, but rather only as a last resort, after strategies such as conservation, the use of water already impounded but not used for supply, and water reuse have been exhausted. In a time when some dams in the United States are actually coming down, Georgia should not be focused on building more reservoirs.

7. What's wrong with interbasin transfers? Aren't they a way to get water to people who need it without building reservoirs?

“Interbasin transfer” is a term that describes the removal of water from one river basin to be used and discharged into a different river basin. Interbasin transfers disrupt the natural distribution of water into different river basins, starving the basin from which the water is taken and changing its natural chemical and biological makeup. They also pipe more water into the receiving basin than it is naturally able to accept, likewise changing its natural chemical and biological composition.

Interbasin transfers create conflicts among communities because water removed from a river and not returned is no longer available to sustain the economies of downstream communities or protect the health of the river and the wildlife that depend upon it. Maintaining natural flows throughout Georgia to the maximum extent practicable is essential for the overall health of its water resources and the economies that depend on them.

8. What is the Georgia Water Coalition's position on water conservation?

The Georgia Water Coalition recommends that the state aggressively implement water conservation and efficiency as the state's first and least expensive supply source. The state and its agencies must become models for conservation and efficient use of its water supplies.

9. Does the Georgia Water Coalition believe that outdoor watering bans are an effective conservation measure?
No. Watering bans occur when water conservation and efficiency planning fail. Per person, Georgians use 10 percent more water than the national average. Water conservation is more than watering bans and low-flow toilets. We can do many things to use our water more efficiently that would result in less overall water usage, with no impact on quality of life. A good example of this is implementing watering restrictions, such as only allowing watering to occur on specified days of the week, which acts to reduce our overall outdoor usage of water. Watering bans that prohibit all outdoor usage are one way to reduce water usage, but they are by no means the only way or even the most effective.
10. Where does the Tri-State Water War fit into all of this?

The long-running "Tri-State Water War" between Georgia, Florida and Alabama is a major focus of the Georgia Water Coalition. Even though a June 2011 ruling by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has now overturned the 2009 ruling by Judge Paul Magnuson regarding the use of water from Lake Lanier, the tri-state negotiations continue and Georgia needs to continue improving its water stewardship.

The Georgia Water Coalition believes that to do its part to find a resolution in the tri-state water war, Georgia should create a plan that protects waters and communities upstream and downstream, and truly create a “Culture of Conservation” that provides the quickest and cheapest way to address our water supply problems and protect downstream communities. To do this, Georgia should:

  • Focus strategies on aggressive use of water conservation and efficiency measures which will create a hidden reservoir ”of water at a price per gallon significantly less than other options.
  • Make reauthorization and reallocation of the water from Lake Lanier a central component of future water supply plans.
  • Use water demand projections that realistically reflect Metro Atlanta's future water needs.
  • Not deprive downstream communities of the chance for future economic growth, prosperity and ecological health.

Click here to learn more about the Georgia Water Coalition's positions on the many issues at play in the wake of the ruling.

11. When it rains, our streams run red with mud due to lack of enforcement of existing water regulations. Is the Georgia Water Coalition doing anything to improve this situation?
Yes. The Georgia Water Coalition recommends an increase in enforcement of Georgia's Erosion and Sedimentation laws and regulations. Among other things, the Georgia Water Coalition supports funding for additional enforcement positions. The legislature has not always fully allocated fees for erosion and sedimentation permits to fund EPD enforcement positions, as required by House Bill 285, which passed in 2003. We encourage the General Assembly to make sure that the fees are put to their intended uses.
12. Why are stream buffers important?

Natural vegetated buffers protect water quality, filter storm water, provide flood control, prevent erosion, and serve as wildlife habitat. Statewide requirements for maintaining buffers have been weakened over time, harming both the natural systems and the property owners and water users downstream of developments that encroach into the buffer. This trend should be reversed, and we should provide more protection for our water resources through the use of vegetated buffers along streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and wetlands.

13. What other issues has the Georgia Water Coalition worked on in the past?
When the Georgia Water Coalition was formed in 2002, it fought against an effort to privatize the right to withdraw water in the state of Georgia. The coalition believes that the surface and ground waters of the state must continue to be managed as a public resource, regulated by the state in the public interest and in a sustainable manner. Similarly, the coalition has fought against proposals to initiate water quality permit trading in Georgia. The idea of trading permits undermines the concept of water being owned in common by everyone, and it implies that the permits themselves carry a property right separate from the right to use the water. This, in turn, would undermine the fundamental concept of water as a public resource.
14. How can I get involved with the Georgia Water Coalition?

Click here to read our participation statement and sign up your organization, club or business as a member of the GWC. Talk to your friends and co-workers about the Georgia Water Coalition, and encourage them to sign up for Georgia Environmental Network Alerts. Speak to neighbors in your community, and get your community engaged on this important issue. Above all, write, email, call and meet with your elected officials. They need to know how to do the right thing for Georgia's waters. Sustainable strategies must be used to protect natural systems and meet human and economic needs.

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