ATHENS — Since October, health departments in three Coastal Georgia counties have been receiving much-needed assistance from the University of Georgia Marine Extension (MAREX) Service as they begin an electronic inventory of coastal septic system permits.
MAREX launched the new project in Bryan, Liberty and McIntosh counties. Funded by a Coastal Incentive Grant, the new system records data in the Georgia Division of Public Health’s online database, the Digital Health Department, which is used by a majority of Georgia counties.
“An obvious project benefit is that it will ease the day-to-day workflow in the health departments,” said project manager and MAREX GIS Coordinator Doug Atkinson. “However, a greater benefit is that it will create a map layer that will be readily available for regional planning and scientific analysis, both of which are important as the Georgia coast experiences rapid growth.”
Historically, some septic tank permits in Georgia counties have been recorded in two different information systems, but most permits are in paper form only. Under the new project, all existing permit details will be transferred to the Digital Health Department. Atkinson currently is hiring one data entry person for each of the three counties.
With Georgia’s marine industries dependent upon estuarine water quality, MAREX sees the project as benefitting the environment. Nitrogen from septic tank wastewater reaches first ground and then surface water and can lead to eutrophication, or nutrient pollution. While Georgia has not experienced dangerously high levels of nitrogen in its estuarine waters, the creation of an inventory will make it possible to better understand the extent to which septic tanks are contributing nitrogen to the coastal environment.
Project work in each county is staggered, beginning in Bryan County and ending in McIntosh in 2013. The project will not only enhance the abilities of local environmental health departments but will also satisfy performance standards for the Regional Plan of Coastal Georgia.
For the past 41 years, UGA’s MAREX has served the Georgia coast increasing the efficiency of existing marine industries, identifying new industries that do not harm the environment, and increasing public awareness and understanding of coastal ecosystems.