Annual Spring Georgia Water Coalition Meeting a Great Success

The annual spring Georgia Water Coalition meeting, hosted by the GWF at our Alcovy Conservation Center on June 5, was a great success. Seventy-six people attended, representing 46 of the 216 GWC partners groups. With our meeting room filled to near capacity, all manner of important topics were discussed, including the recent coastal marsh buffer rollbacks, a review of the 2014 Legislative Session, the July 1 expiration of the Aquifer Storage and Recovery Moratorium, toxic groundwater pollution from legacy industrial sites, and a review of the Georgia Environmental Action Network (GEAN) and the Camo Coalition.

In between the morning and afternoon sessions, the group enjoyed a scrumptious Italian lunch at our Tupelo Pavilion before reconvening to revise the GWC 2013 Biennial Report: Recommendations for a healthy water future. To learn more about the GWC, visit www.gawater.org

Advertisements

GWF 2012 Legislative Update

The 2012 legislative session was a huge success for conservationists. Georgia Wildlife Federation members and the Camo Coalition raised their voices in unison and our elected officials took notice. We defeated three bills that would have been detrimental to our fish and wildlife resources.  In addition, we supported and helped pass a saltwater fishery management reform bill. Thank you to all of our supporters for taking action and contacting your Senators and Representatives.  Your emails, calls, and faxes made a huge difference. It really grabs the attention of our elected officials when they receive hundreds of emails from their constituents asking them to support or vote against a particular bill.  They appreciate your input, your knowledgeable positions, and your passion.

GWF participated in two very important events at the Gold Dome during the 2012 session. We set up a display and handed out brochures and information at the annual Sportsman’s Day on February 8th and we participated in Conservation Day at the Capital on February 28th. GWF is a strong presence at the Capitol thanks to our very active membership. Please encourage your friends to join us by going to our website at gwf.org and signing up to be a free member of the Camo Coalition.  Together we can make a difference and protect our hunting and fishing heritage and Georgia’s abundant and diverse natural resources.

Significant Legislation:

Deer Breeding, HB 1043, was killed in committee
HB1043 would have legalized the breeding and hunting of captive held genetically engineered White-tailed deer in high fence preserves. It would have made it legal to import breeder bucks and does. If this bill had passed, these deer would have been bred for big antlers, hand fed for four years or more, and sold to canned hunting operations where people would pay $5,000 or more to shoot them. It was assigned to the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee. We sent out a Camo Alert and you responded!  The members of the committee received over 8,000 emails in opposition to HB1043 sent by GWF supporters!  Way to go! The Ag committee was not supportive and the bill’s sponsor asked to have the bill moved to the  House Game, Fish and Parks committee.  We sent out another Camo Alert and again you responded. Several of our staff members and one of our board members went to the Capitol and testified against HB 1043. HB1043 died in committee and never made it to the House floor for a vote. We probably have not seen the last of this type of legislation.  GWF will continue to fight for ethical, fair chase hunting laws and for the health and security of our native deer herd.

Log Mining, SB 362, passed the Senate but was defeated in the House
Senator Tommie Williams tried again and failed to pass a bill that would allow for the removal of old growth logs from our rivers. SB 362 would have legalized the sale of these “deadhead” logs from the bottom of several of Georgia’s rivers.Submerged logs, when exposed above the stream or river bed, serve as valuable fish habitat for Georgia’s panfish, bass, and other fish species. They are often covered by sediments that in many cases hold high concentrations of toxic heavy metal pollutants that have accumulated from our upstream activities over the last 150 years. Mining of these logs would release these toxins and potentially pollute drinking water, fish habitat, and recreation areas. Passage of this bill would have also allowed our precious natural resources to be sold well below market value. The Senate passed SB 362 but the House opposed it with a vote of 93 -67. This victory was a result of hard work on your part, GWF staff, and many conservation mindedorganizations in Georgia. GWF passed out fact sheets to legislators and sent out two Camo Alerts during the process. Thank you for responding and sending a strong message to your elected officials against SB 362.

Domesticating Tilapia, SB 360, passed the Senate but was tabled by the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee
SB360 would have legalized the release of three species of tilapia into farm ponds throughout Georgia. Supporters of the bill felt that tilapia would make good forage fish for largemouth bass. Introducing Tilapia in Georgia could wipe out local populations of native fish like sunfish throughout South Georgia. GWF created a fact sheet on Tilapia and passed it out to legislators at the Capitol. GWF CEO Jerry McCollum also testified before the full Committee in opposition to SB360. Although this bill passed the Senate it fortunately died in the House Game, Fish and Parks Committee after the entire House received Camo Alert emails from our members. We do not need to further threaten our native fish with another exotic invasive species. Thank you for contacting your Representatives and helping GWF send a strong message against introducing the Kudzu Fish!

Saltwater Fishery Management Reform, HB 869, passed the House and Senate without unnecessary amendments
Currently Georgia law divides regulating saltwater fishing among the Georgia General Assembly, the DNR Board and the DNR Commissioner. This division of authority among three entities often makes it difficult for DNR to manage saltwater fisheries in a timely and effective manner.  HB 869 gives the DNR Board and the DNR Commissioner the ability to quickly make routine changes to saltwater fishery regulations based on current biological conditions just like they manage freshwater fishing and hunting.  GWF supported HB 869 because it streamlines the process and makes it easier for DNR to effectively manage our saltwater fishery resources in a timely manner.  The House passed this bill but the Senate added unnecessary amendments that would have complicated the fishery management process even more.  GWF sent out a Camo Alert asking you to urge your Senators to vote on the compromise bill that came out of the House conference committee.  You responded promptly and the Senate voted to accept the House version of the bill without the amendments. Thank you for your support for this excellent piece of legislation which will lead to better coastal fishing for all Georgia anglers.

Truth in Fees Bill/Put the trust back in trust funds, HB 811, was killed in committee and therefore failed to pass
HB 811 was groundbreaking legislation which we strongly supported.  The bill required that fees collected for certain activities be used for the intended purposes and not raided to pay for other state budgetary needs. We have several environmental fees in Georgia that were designed to fund specific state programs including:

– a tire disposal fee that is supposed to go to the Solid Waste Trust Fund to clean up illegal tire dumps and other solid waste problems

– fees collected at landfills and places that handle hazardous materials that are supposed to go to the Hazardous Waste Trust Fund to clean up old hazardous waste dump sites that threaten ground water.

HB 811 passed the House with only 5 dissenting votes.  A clear signal was sent to the Senate that trust needs to be put back into these trust funds. Unfortunately, it was gutted in the Senate and ridiculous “Rainy Day Fund” caveats were added.  The two chambers could not compromise and it never came up for a final vote. Representative Jay Powell, who sponsored the legislation, has made it clear that he will keep introducing this bill until changes are made.  Although we did not sent out a Camo Alert on HB 811, GWF worked hard behind the scenes to encourage passage of this ethical bill.  We will continue to fight for proper dispensing of these fees in the years to come.

SB 427 – The “Pay to Play” Bill was passed
SB 427 allows the DNR Environmental Protection Division Director to accept a fee that would expedite the reviewing and granting of permit applications and variances. It also requires that the EPD maintain a way for applicants to track the status of their applications, with real time updates, on the division’s Internet website.  We are opposed to the provision that allows an applicant to pay for faster processing.  This is not equal treatment under the law.  GWF sent out a Camo Alert and although the bill passed, we were successful at preventing an amendment from being attached that included a deference clause that wouldhave required an Administrative Law Judge to give deference to EPD’s positions, rather than maintain appropriate judicial independence at the administrative law judge level. The administrative law courts would be unfairly favoring government bureaucrats over average citizens.  We have fought this amendment several times over the years and thankfully it did not make it into the final version of this bill. We continue to believe that a judge should apply the law to all sides of a dispute equally and then find favor with the side that is favored by the facts contained in law.

Pictured: Governor Nathan Deal speaks at this year’s Sportsman’s Day at the Capitol.

Did Your River Make the Dirty Dozen?

The Georgia Water Coalition celebrated its 10th anniversary Saturday at the Georgia Wildlife Federation‘s Alcovy Conservation Center. The water coalition is a group of more than 180 organizations in Georgia dedicated to the care and protection of Georgia’s water resources. The GWF was a founding member of the group and celebrated with an oyster roast with more than 100 members from all over the state.

More importantly, though, the Coalition used the occasion to release its list of the dozen worst offenses to Georgia’s water. The “Dirty Dozen” as it’s known, is a call to action to highlight where the need for water protection and restoration is the greatest. By now, you’ve likely seen mention of the list, many newspapers, television stations and websites have run stories this week, including GPB and the AJC. This is the first such compilation of water offenses in Georgia.

“This is more than a list,” said Jerry McCollum, president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation and a founding member of the Coalition. “This is a call to action for Georgia’s citizens and its leaders. The sites populating this list are only poster children for the larger problem of a system that is failing to protect our water, our fish and wildlife and our communities.”

The Ogeechee River leads the Dirty Dozen, not only because of the recent fish kill – the largest recorded in Georgia history – but also because King America Finishing was found to have been polluting the river with industrial waste illegally for 5 years without being detected by the EPD. A $1 million settlement for projects along the river to be paid for by the company only reinforces the idea that it is cheaper to pollute and pay the penalty than it is to be a responsible corporate citizen and obey the laws meant to protect our water supply.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Altamaha River made the list at #2 near the Rayonier Pulp Mill in Southeast Georgia. Commendably, Rayonier responded this week to the release of the list and has acknowledged their role in polluting the river and destroying fisheries and is ahead of schedule in their cleanup process, though admittedly, there is much more work to do.

The full list of 12 is below, with links detailing each specific issue. This is only a representation of the worst offenders. Water quality issues abound throughout the state. If you or an organization you are a part of would like information on becoming a partner of the Georgia Water Coalition, you may submit a participation statement through the Coalition’s website here. The Georgia Water Coalition currently represents about 300,000 Georgians through the different member organizations. But it will take much more than that to protect our water quality while it continues to be cheaper to pollute than it is to comply with the law. Every church, school or civic organization has a stake in the protection of Georgia’s water supply. Let’s make the continued success of the Georgia Water Coalition our own personal goal for the next 10 years.
1. Ogeechee River: Polluter Devastates Ogeechee for Five Years and Goes Undetected by EPD

2. Altamaha River: Rayonier Pulp Mill Discharge Destroys Fisheries

3. Savannah River: Costly Harbor Dredging Wrecks Savannah River Estuary

4. Chattahoochee River: Critical Minimum Flow Neglected at Atlanta

5. Shoal Creek and Flat Creek: Unnecessary Reservoirs Threaten Downstream Communities, Endangered Species and Public Coffers

6. Oconee & Ogeechee Rivers: Speculative Coal Plant Permitted Even Though it is Unneeded and Will Harm Water, Air and Fisheries

7. Flint River: Flint River Sucked Dry as EPD Allows Too Many Withdrawals

8. Coastal Wetlands: Docks in Georgia’s Tidal Wetlands Spoil the “Marshes of Glynn”

9. South Georgia Wetlands: Four Decades of Ditches Dry Out South Georgia Wetlands

10. Broad River: Waste Disposal “Farm” Fouls the Broad River

11. Brier & Commissioner Creeks: Fish Dying In Kaolin Country and EPD Doesn ’t Know Why

12. Coosa River: Coal-fired Power Plant’s Water Withdrawal and Heated Water Discharge Threaten River ’s Health

GWC Celebrates 10th Anniversary

On November 5, 2011, the Georgia Wildlife Federation hosted the Georgia Water Coalition’s 10th Anniversary Celebration at the Alcovy Conservation Center in Covington, Georgia. 105 individuals attended representing 46 GWC partner organizations. Representative Mark Hatfield (R – Waycross) gave the keynote address. The GWC 2011 Dirty Dozen Report was unveiled and several members of the GWC Leadership Team gave presentations on the history and accomplishments of the GWC over the last decade. Numerous awards were presented to key dedicated individuals who had worked to enhance water conservation and protection over the previous decade. Participants enjoyed an oyster roast with oysters from Georgia and Florida waters. Press releases were distributed announcing the 10th anniversary celebration as well as the 2011 Dirty Dozen Report. Good coverage was attained from several media sources.

GWC Meets at the Alcovy Conservation Center

The Georgia Wildlife Federation hosted the summer meeting of the Georgia Water Coalition at the Alcovy Conservation Center on June 8. Representatives from 28 different member organizations were in attendence to discuss strategies and issues for water management policies through the end of the year and into 2012.

Regional water plans are currently being discussed and shaped around the state and the Georgia Water Coalition is working toward the implementation of smart and effective water management strategies based on natural water sources to protect Georgia’s resources for the future.