Last week, I visited Debbie and Mike Parsons of Paulding County at their home along Griffin Creek just outside the city of Dallas. We walked their property and I heard stories of their dreams and desires for the home they built in the 1980s overlooking a pretty Piedmont stream on property that has been in the family since the mid 20th century.
There was talk of a picnic area beside a small waterfall on the creek, barbecues on the back patio and grandchildren playing in the cold, clear stream.
But then something happened in Paulding County during the 1990s and early 2000s—unbridled growth.
The City of Dallas laid a sewer line through their backyard to accommodate this growth. Sewage fumes wafting from manhole covers ran the barbecuers indoors.
Sewage overflows caused by a wastewater system inadequate to handle the burgeoning suburbs around Dallas soon followed.
Meanwhile, land clearing and development upstream sent plumes of mud and sediment into their backyard play place. Stormwater surges from the developed landscape upstream still pound Griffin Creek, eroding its banks and carrying litter and other refuse through the Parson’s property.
They now tell the grandchildren not to play in the creek.
Earlier this year, the City of Dallas opened a new, and long overdue, modern $18 million sewage treatment plant that should alleviate the Parsons’ sewage overflow problems, but the damage done to Griffin Creek from upstream development is likely irreparable.
As the Georgia General Assembly debates bills to protect Georgia’s streams over the final weeks of the session, the Parsons’ dilemma is a cautionary tale of lax water protection laws and even more lax enforcement of these laws.
In the coming weeks, legislators will look at good bills seeking to restore protections for the state’s streams and rivers and enact rules to protect the state’s groundwater drinking sources. Unfortunately, legislators will also consider a bill that seeks to weaken the very review process that prevents land development projects from destroying streams with sediment and polluted run off. Here’s a look at those bills–good and bad:
First, the good. House Bill 966, introduced Feb. 10 by Rep. Johnnie Caldwell (R-Thomaston) will amend the state’s Erosion and Sedimentation Act to restore buffer protections for those rivers and streams that lack something called “wrested vegetation.” The Act, as it currently reads, provides a mandatory natural 25-foot buffer or “no build zone” along the edge of streams, but only where the stream shows a clear line of “wrested vegetation”—the point at which the force of the water prevents plants from growing.
The problem is on slow-moving streams, especially in south Georgia, there are many places where there is no clear line of “wrested vegetation” and in these situations Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division has determined that there is no mandatory 25-foot buffer.
The legislature should fix this problem by passing HB 966.
Likewise, our state leaders should act on Senate Bill 36, a bill that requires the Department of Natural Resources to establish rules protecting the state’s groundwater resources. The bill passed the Senate last year in overwhelming fashion, but has since been stuck in the House Natural Resources Committee.
Finally, state legislators should put an unceremonious end to SB 326, a proposal that would give local governments just 14 days to review erosion control plans for large developments. These often-complicated plans are supposed to keep dirt and sediment out of local streams and rivers. Reviews routinely involve visits to the proposed development site and reviewers often require changes to improve the plans. Its a tedious process, but one that helps insure our water is protected. Currently, local governments are allowed 45 days for these reviews; cutting that period to two weeks would result in many plans being automatically approved without being reviewed.
Say what you want about “big government,” Georgia’s water laws should be about protecting the little guy—property owners like the Parsons who only want to enjoy their backyard stream and don’t want it polluted by an upstream developer.
Joe Cook, CRBI Advocacy & Communication Coordinator
If you’d like to get involved in urging legislators to do the right thing for our water, join CRBI and the Georgia Water Coalition for Capitol Conservation Day, Wednesday, Feb. 17. To register to participate, contact Joe Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org.