Tuesday, March 31, 2009

New Water Policy Institute White Paper Offers Blueprint for Resolving Southeastern Water Wars

/PRNewswire/ -- The Water Policy Institute, a non-partisan consortium dedicated to developing innovative, sustainable solutions for water supply, quality and use issues, announces the release of a white paper that examines the water consumption issues driving many water disputes and provides a blueprint for resolution.

"Water Wars: Conflicts Over Shared Waters," the first white paper produced by the Institute, focuses on the long-running war over water among Georgia, Florida and Alabama in the wake of the Southeast drought and the challenges resulting from a growing water footprint and increased consumption, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

"The water war in the Southeastern U.S. serves as a microcosm of water disputes occurring in the U.S. and throughout the world," said Kathy Robb, founder and director of the Water Policy Institute, and a partner at the law firm Hunton & Williams LLP. "This dispute has been made much worse in recent years by growing demand for the limited amount of water available."

The Southeast dispute shares many similarities with water conflicts worldwide, including competition for drinking water in an area of growth and development; increased agricultural needs; endangered and imperiled species protection; navigation, hydropower, fishing and other commercial disputes; and conflict between upstream and downstream users.

"Water supply, quality, and use issues pose major challenges for governments at every level, both in the U.S. and globally," said former EPA Administrator and New Jersey Governor, Christine Todd Whitman, president of the Whitman Strategy Group and chair of the Water Policy Institute. "The Water Policy Institute will continue to publish white papers that examine timely subjects and offer new ideas and potential solutions."

The Institute's white paper provides a guide for looking at and resolving the issues at the core of the Georgia, Florida and Alabama dispute and, by extension, other water wars. Among its proposals: that states hold off on pending litigation while President Obama appoints a federal moderator to facilitate an interstate compact, and that various studies be completed to explore how conservation, reclamation and reuse tools can lead to greater water efficiency.

"Our aim was to explore the root causes of water disputes and provide a suggested path for their resolution," added Robb.

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March rain relieves Georgia drought

An unusually wet March has brought major drought relief to north Georgia. Only the Lake Lanier and Lake Hartwell basins are now in drought. The remainder of north Georgia is drought-free.

Abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions continue across south Georgia, however.

Though relief has come, long-term rainfall deficits are still a concern. Small and medium reservoirs are full. The major exceptions are Lake Lanier and the Savannah River Valley reservoirs Hartwell, Russell and Clarks Hill.

Rain across the piedmont and mountains have resulted in the soil moisture being near normal for the end of March. However, soils across south Georgia remain abnormally dry.

The counties in north Georgia classified as being in moderate drought are Union, Towns, Rabun, Lumpkin, White, Habersham, Hall and Stephens. With the exception of northwest Georgia, which has normal moisture conditions for late March, the rest of north Geogia is classified as abnormally dry because of long-term rain deficits.

Coastal plain counties in south Georgia are classified as being abnormally dry or in moderate drought. Abnormally dry counties are south and west of Muscogee, Chattahoochee, Marion, Schley, Sumter, Lee, Worth, Colquitt and Brooks. The remaining coastal plain counties are classified as being in moderate drought.

Currently the climate pattern is a weak La Niña pattern tending toward a neutral pattern. A typical weak La Niña spring brings wet weather across the northern piedmont into the mountains, just like north Georgia experienced in March.

However, across the coastal plain and southern piedmont, a weak La Niña spring is usually warm and dry. Outside the series of storms that crossed the coastal plain over the last several days, the expected La Niña pattern has occurred.

Moisture conditions are in good shape across most of the state’s northern half, but the typical moisture recharge period will be ending soon. By the middle of April, plants are in full spring growth and using tremendous amounts of water.

By the middle of April we can expect the soils to begin to dry because of increased plant water use. Additionally, by the middle of April, temperatures are routinely in the 70s to low 80s. This means that evaporation will increase. This late spring and summer drying is normal.

The outlook is for a few more weeks of recharge followed by the normal drying of the soils due to plant water use and evaporation. May is usually a dry month. Little recharge is expected from May through October, but this is typical for Georgia.

The big unknown is what the tropics will bring Georgia this summer and winter. Much of the state’s late summer and fall rain comes from tropical disturbances. Without moisture from the tropics, August through October can be very dry. At this time there are no clear indications of how much rainfall the summer will bring.

By David Stooksbury
University of Georgia

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Georgia Water Coalition Airs TV Ads to Raise Awareness of Threats to Well Water

On Monday, the Georgia Water Coalition (GWC) began airing television commercials in Middle Georgia informing citizens about proposals to pump chemically treated sewage and river water into our groundwater. This practice (known as aquifer storage and recovery or ASR) can contaminate vital drinking water sources for many Georgians, an issue the GWC wants Georgians to be sure to know about.

The GWC is comprised of 174 groups, ranging from hunting and fishing groups, to religious organizations, environmental groups, and businesses, all working together to aggressively ensure enough clean water for current and future generations. “We are vigorously defending clean water in Georgia and making sure citizens know about the threats our water faces,” said Chandra Brown, the Ogeechee Canoochee Riverkeeper, which is a member of the Georgia Water Coalition.

Chemically treated water injected into groundwater is a threat to drinking water and poses a significant health risk to hundreds of thousands of Georgians who rely on groundwater to drink. The General Assembly twice passed a moratorium on aquifer storage and recovery to protect drinking water, which is scheduled to sunset in 2009. The Senate is now considering HB 155 which would extend the moratorium 5 more years.

The ads encourage viewers to contact Senator Ross Tolleson, from Perry, who is the Chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, who will first consider the bill in the Senate.

“Senator Tolleson has the opportunity to be a real champion for protecting clean water for current and future generations. He has stepped up to the plate before, and we are counting on him now,” said Gordon Rogers, the Satilla Riverkeeper from Waynesville, GA.

Earlier this year, the GWC released poll results showing that ensuring enough clean water continues to top Georgians’ environmental concerns. Of those surveyed, 73 percent supported extending a ban on aquifer storage and recovery.

Recently, ASR has been proposed as an alternative to dispose of chemically treated sewage in Liberty County. Among the concerns are contamination by pharmaceuticals and personal care products, which are actively present in all treated sewage discharges.

“These issues are too often decided without the public knowing about it or getting involved” said April Ingle, Executive Director of the Georgia River Network. “We’re changing that.”

In response to this legislative proposal, 4 local governments on the coast have passed resolutions supporting the ban on the practice. The reasoning offered in the resolutions includes protecting their primary source of drinking water and concerns about injecting lower quality water into their high quality aquifer. The resolutions cite concerns that these risks could result in damage to the aquifer and drinking water supply with severe negative consequences for coastal Georgia's economy and environment.

The National Research Council found in 2001 that a proposal for ASR in south Florida posed significant risks to groundwater, including potentially increasing heavy metal concentrations, such as mercury. This report also found that the chemically treated surface water could contain bacteria and pathogens and contaminate groundwater. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers found levels of arsenic that exceeded safe drinking water levels in areas using ASR in South Florida.

Analysis of a project in South Carolina by the U.S. Geological Survey found that less than 25% of the water pumped into an aquifer would be available to reuse. This study also found that injecting water into aquifers did not help increase groundwater levels in wells near the injection site.

These studies indicate that the use of ASR may risk contaminating drinking water with very little recovery. The Georgia Water Coalition will continue to work w/ the Georgia Legislature throughout their 2009 Legislative Session to ban pumping chemically treated water into the groundwater and keep citizens informed and engaged on the issue.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Severe Weather Outbreaks Unusual for February

Temperatures were slightly above normal and rainfall was below normal for most of Georgia in February, according to data collected by the Georgia Automated Environmental Monitoring Network and the National Weather Service.

There were no temperature records broken or tied during the month. Most stations reported mean temperatures of 1 degree Fahrenheit above normal for the month. Athens reported the highest above-normal departure at 1.5 F. Savannah reported the lowest below-normal departure at 2.1 F.

The swings in temperature seen in January continued in February as a series of fronts moved through the region, bringing Arctic and Gulf of Mexico air by turns through Georgia. This is expected during the neutral El Niño-Southern Oscillation phase, whose effects linger, though a weak La Niña has developed in the Pacific.

Severe weather hit the state three times in February. On Feb.11, high winds were reported in far north Georgia with the development of a strong low-pressure system in the Ohio River valley.

On Feb. 18, the state experienced an unusual widespread outbreak of severe weather ahead of a low-pressure area that developed near the Gulf of Mexico and moved northeast along a cold front. Numerous reports of tornadoes and large hail along with high winds were reported in many parts of the state, causing an estimated $25 million.

One person was killed in Hancock County when a mobile home rolled over, and 22 injuries were reported across the state.

A hailstone estimated at 4.25 inches was reported in Coweta County, the largest hailstone ever officially reported in February in Georgia.

On Feb. 28, a strong weather system brought high winds and hail to Georgia. Numerous trees were downed and hail was reported in Bibb and Chatham counties.

Heavy rains fell across much of Georgia, including rainfalls of more than 3 inches along the north Georgia-Alabama border. Some localized flooding was reported by the NWS.

Despite the rainfall, drought conditions expanded slightly in east Georgia and along the coast. The entire state is considered in abnormally dry conditions, with moderate drought or higher covering over 75 percent of the state.

During the month, Atlanta received 3.70 inches (or 0.98 inches below normal), Athens 3.67 inches (0.72 inches below normal), Columbus 5.44 inches (0.96 inches above normal), Macon 2.32 inches (2.23 inches below normal), Savannah 1.33 inches (1.59 inches below normal), Alma 1.47 inches (3.36 inches below normal), Brunswick 1.83 inches (2.03 inches below normal) and Augusta 3.21 inches (0.90 inches below normal).

Only two small regions of Georgia received above normal rainfall: a narrow band stretching west to east near Augusta and a small swath northeast of Valdosta. Columbus reported a new daily record of 2.75 inches of precipitation on Feb. 28.

Dry, cool conditions delayed small grain growth and suppressed winter grazing for cattle. Due to temperatures below 20 F in southeast Georgia, blueberries farmers there lost as much as 65 percent of their Southern highbush blueberries, with scattered damage to their early rabbiteye blueberries.

By Pam Knox
University of Georgia

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Registered Georgians Can Water New Outdoor Plantings Longer

Georgians are taking water conservation seriously, saving up to 180 million gallons per day in counties under the level 4 drought category. And many of these people still give their plants the water they need to grow.

Between June 2007 and June 2008, water use was down 20 percent in 55 north Georgia counties. Helping in that reduction were Georgians who pledged to reduce their outdoor water use by 10 percent through the Outdoor Water Use Registration Program (outdoorwateruse.com). The program was developed by the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture, along with the Environmental Protection Division and the Urban Ag Council.

As of February 2009, 22,200 people had completed the program either through local UGA Cooperative Extension Service offices or online.

They’re reducing, not eliminating, water use.

“The long and short of it is, the governor wanted reassurance that citizens would use water in the most efficient way possible and recognize that landscapes are essential,” said Todd Hurt, a UGA Extension water specialist. “We need to water a little bit so all our soil doesn’t wind up in lakes and rivers.”

Soil erosion is the No. 1 pollutant in rivers, he said. Plants hold the soil in place and help it absorb water after a rain.

In Oct. 2007, a complete outdoor watering ban was issued in many parts of Georgia. The state soon learned that when outdoor spigots turn off plants die, soil washes away and Georgia’s $8 billion plant industry shrivels.

The plant, or green, industry lost an estimated $230 million a month and 35,000 jobs during that drought. Cities and counties that sell water through local utilities lost revenue.

The UGA Center for Urban Agriculture created the program to help soothe some of the problems watering bans create. The program went live in Feb. 2008 when Gov. Sonny Perdue signed an order allowing limited outdoor watering.

The program, Hurt said, allows landscapes that have been in the ground less than 30 days to be watered longer than 25 minutes at a time. Only property owners in areas under level 4, level 4A or level 4B droughts need to complete the program and become certified. Level 4C allows for watering three days a week, therefore the certificate would not be a benefit.

People certified through the program can use their irrigation systems if they pledge to use less water than they did before the drought.

“You would take your certificate and post it in your landscape,” Hurt said, “and that would allow you to water on the odd-even system from midnight to 10 a.m. for 10 weeks.”

Some local water providers ask for the certificate before issuing a local watering permit, he said.

The program is composed of a 40-slide presentation and certification quiz. It covers topics such as Georgia’s water basins, where water originates, water use, landscape value, how to water efficiently, where to put plants, mulch and how to find alternative water sources.

It’s hard to teach water conservation in a state that receives as much as 50 inches of rain a year, Hurt said. Some states get less than 5 inches.

“We have to find ways to capture (water) and reuse it in a wise fashion,” he said. “We can’t give up our landscapes. We can’t plant cactus. It’s going to rot when the rain comes back.”

Hurt is revamping the program to focus more on sustainable landscapes and less on drought.

Georgia’s plant industry hasn’t recovered, yet, he said. The number of new landscapes being installed is still greatly reduced. The program has helped, though.

For more information or to complete the certification, call 1-800-ASK-UGA1 to schedule an appointment at your local UGA Extension office. Or, complete it online for $4.95 at outdoorwateruse.com.

By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

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Monday, March 2, 2009

Study suggests Surface Water Contaminated with Salmonella More Common than ThoughtS

A new University of Georgia study suggests that health agencies investigating Salmonella illnesses should consider untreated surface water as a possible source of contamination.

Researchers, whose results appear in the March issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology, tested water over a one-year period in rivers and streams in a region of south Georgia known for its high rate of sporadic salmonella cases. The team found Salmonella in 79 percent of water samples, with the highest concentrations and the greatest diversity of strains in the summer and after rainfall.

“Streams are not routinely tested for Salmonella, and our finding is an indication that many more could be contaminated than people realize,” said Erin Lipp, associate professor in the UGA College of Public Health. “We found our highest numbers in the summer months, and this is also the time when most people get sick.”

Lipp, who co-authored the study with former UGA graduate student Bradd Haley and Dana Cole in the Georgia Division of Public Health, said that although contaminated water used to irrigate or wash produce has been linked to several well-publicized outbreaks of salmonellosis in recent years, the environmental factors that influence Salmonella levels in natural waters are not well understood. She said understanding how Salmonella levels change in response to variables such as temperature and rainfall are critical to predicting—and ultimately preventing—the waterborne transmission of the bacteria.

The team studied streams in the upper reaches of the Suwannee River Basin, which begins in south Georgia and flows into central Florida. The study area contains a mix of forested lands, row crops, pasturelands, wetlands and small cities. The researchers chose sampling sites near a variety of those environments but found little variation in Salmonella concentrations by location. The diversity of Salmonella strains, however, was highest near a farm containing cattle and a pivot irrigation system, suggesting that close proximity to livestock and agriculture increase the risk of contamination. The researchers also found a strong and direct correlation between rainfall for the two days preceding sample collection and the concentration of Salmonella, suggesting that runoff contributes to the contamination.

Salmonella can be found in the intestinal tracts of several species of animals and in humans. The bacteria are shed in feces, but Lipp said recent data suggest that they can persist and possibly grow in water if given the right conditions. Her study found that the diversity and concentration of Salmonella increased as temperatures increased. The highest concentrations and greatest diversity of strains were found in August, the warmest month of the year. Lipp adds that her study, which was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Joint Program on Climate Variability and Human Health, lends support to the idea that Salmonella illnesses could increase as a result of global warming.

Lipp notes that her study area had 58 cases of Salmonella illness per 100,000 people in 2007, the last year for which figures are available, compared to a state average of 22 cases per 100,000 people and a national average of 15 cases per 100,000 people. She said the exact mechanisms by which people in her study area are being exposed to environmental Salmonella are unclear, but the most commonly detected strain in the studied streams was among the top ten associated with human infections in the health district. The porous nature of the soil in the study area means that surface water and groundwater are prone to mixing, especially after rainfalls, and Lipp said that poorly sited wells might be a factor in many illnesses. Another possibility, especially common among children, is so called incidental exposure by which people become infected with the bacteria when playing in or near contaminated waterways.

“Understanding the environmental factors that contribute to salmonella illnesses can guide our efforts to educate people about how they can avoid being sickened through the proper construction and maintenance of wells, basic hygiene such as hand washing and good food safety practices,” Lipp said. “We also have the potential to decrease the likelihood of larger outbreaks related to produce, because in many cases contaminated irrigation water, and not the produce itself, may be the cause of the outbreak.”

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