Recently I have been talking about the benefits of having access to the Floridan aquifer for our water needs. Those needs are not just for domestic water use in our homes, but for commercial and industrial use as well.
Having an inexpensive source of water is critical to high-water-use industries like the paper industry that bootstrapped the South out of the Depression – the old one, not this current one. One drawback of Floridan water is that it is very hard water. It has many minerals in it, like calcium and magnesium.
These same minerals cause problems in boilers, pipes and other industrial equipment by depositing the minerals in scale that builds up and restricts flow, clogs sprayers and builds up in boilers.
Surface water is much softer than groundwater, but the cost to clean up surface water to get it to drinking-water quality or industrial-water quality costs more than softening the Floridan water or replacing equipment. So, everybody wants Floridan water. That’s great, as long as “everybody” is not a bigger demand than the aquifer can supply.
There have been so many straws sunk into the Floridan, and some straws sucking out so much water, that the pressure of the Floridan has dropped in some places. Just like sucking down a milkshake with a straw, an inverted cone of depression occurs around the well point, and surrounding water begins flowing toward the well to fill the void.
Seawater that historically was held out by the pressure of fresh Floridan water flowing to the coast now is following the freshwater toward the wells. Part of the Floridan is exposed to seawater at the bottom of Port Royal Sound, so when industry in Savannah withdraws huge quantities of Floridan water, seawater begins migrating into the Floridan.
That this is happening is not in dispute. What is in dispute, and hotly, is how to stop the migration, reverse the damage and prevent it from happening again.
Science can help provide the analysis of consequences arising from implementing the various options, but the decisions about what will and will not be implemented where and when falls to the state. Why? Because it owns the water. In other words, how water gets allocated is purely political. I am not saying that is good or bad, it just is.
No politician wants to take a stand on an issue and have it come back to haunt him or her. It is just bad for re-election chances. Water is a really big deal. People can live without water for three days. South Bryan County knows that when the government shuts off the tap, a vigorous construction industry dries up and blows away just about as fast.
Water, especially the aquifer systems underlying the Southeast, is imperfectly understood, and that is being charitable. In spite of missing pieces to the puzzle, the “Water Wars” among Georgia, Alabama, Florida and South Carolina have forced the issue.
Georgia decided to manage the political allocation of water by creating 10 regional water-planning districts to join the Atlanta Regional Commission to decide how water would be allocated within each region.
If one region wanted water from another region – often referred to as interbasin transfers – the two regional water-planning councils would work out the solution. Once the solution was worked out and everybody was happy, it would be safe for the politicians to step forward and take credit for the achievement. I’m not casting an aspersion, that is just the way things work.
From a practical standpoint, it would take the Wisdom of Solomon to balance the water needs of all the people and interests in one region, let alone two, so they put all the local Solomons in the district on the water councils and ask them to work it out.
The initial phase of Georgia’s water-planning councils has been completed. Residents can review the process, access the resource materials and read the draft plans from each regional water-planning council at www.georgiawaterplanning.org. It was a huge task. Residents should access the membership list of the Coastal RWC and thank them for their work.
This is the first round of a long battle, er, process. The decisions about water allocation will determine where and how growth occurs in Georgia. Water is not “the next oil.” It’s bigger than that.
Gardner is the University of Georgia extension agent for Bryan County and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.