Georgia River Network supports the priority issues of the Georgia Water Coalition as well as other important issues facing rivers. Georgia River Network is focused on:
Protect the Okefenokee Swamp!
Protect the Okefenokee Swamp
See below for information on:
Okefenokee Named Most Endangered River
Twin Pines Mine and Comments to the Corps of Engineers
Facts about the Swamp
Save the Swamp Campaign
Paddle the Okefenokee and St Marys
Don’t Risk One of Georgia’s Seven Natural Wonders: Say NO To Okefenokee Swamp Titanium Mine
The Okefenokee Swamp, one of Georgia’s seven natural wonders; the largest blackwater swamp in North America; and a wetland of international importance, is threatened by a proposed titanium mine.
Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, an Alabama mining company with a poor track record of environmental stewardship, has asked federal and state authorities permission to operate a 898-acre heavy mineral sand mine next to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. This is the first phase of a mining operation on a 12,000-acre site. The company proposes digging 50-foot deep trenches in Trail Ridge, the very rise of land that helps regulate water levels in the swamp. These excavations would extend below the water table of the swamp and could alter water levels in the swamp.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has written that “should impacts occur, they may not be able to be reversed, repaired or mitigated for.”
At risk is one of the last self-contained, naturally functioning wetlands left on Earth. Among the most visited National Wildlife Refuges in the country, the Okefenokee hosts some 600,000 visitors annually who help create more than 750 local jobs and a total annual economic output of $64.7 million in the four counties surrounding the swamp.
Ask Governor Brian Kemp to save the swamp and stop this mine.
You may also mail Gov. Kemp a letter to 206 Washington Street, Suite 203, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA 30334
Okefenokee / St Marys River Named Most Endangered River of 2020 by American Rivers
American Rivers named the Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys River as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2020. Rena Ann Peck, Executive Director of Georgia River Network, explains “The Okefenokee Swamp is like the heart of the regional Floridan aquifer system in southeast Georgia and northeast Florida. The life-force of water from the Okefenokee Swamp not only flows into the St. Marys River to the Atlantic Ocean, but also into the Suwannee River to the Gulf of Mexico. Mining on Trail Ridge can draw down the water level of the Okefenokee Swamp and dewater headwater wetlands and tributaries and the rivers they feed, destroying natural habitat for federally listed species and providing dry peat fueling uncontrollable fires.” Read the press release.
Twin Pines Minerals Permit Application
Twin Pines Minerals, LLC, an Alabama mining company, is seeking permission to operate a heavy mineral sand mine to extract titanium in Charlton County on Trail Ridge adjacent to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. Trail Ridge is an ancient geologic formation impounding the swamp on its eastern boundary. Twin Pines’ 12,000-acre mining area is dangerously close to the Refuge. Excavation and groundwater pumping could permanently alter the ancient geologic features that create the swamp and provide important wildlife habitat. Alterations to groundwater flow or impacts to the swamp could impact the Suwannee and St. Mary’s rivers. In addition, the mining could impact imperiled species, including gopher tortoises, a candidate for listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. Gopher tortoises are considered a “keystone” species on which other animals depend. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has written that “Should impacts occur, they may not be able to be reversed, repaired, or mitigated for.” They originally submitted for a permit for a 2400 acre mining destroying over 500 acres of wetlands and 4,658 linear feet of stream. Twin Pines withdrew this original application and now has resubmitted for mining 898 acres only 2.7 miles from the Refuge. We continue to oppose mining on Trail Ridge in order to protect the Okefenokee Swamp and the St. Marys and Suwannee rivers that originate from it.
Twin Pines has applied for a permit to alter wetlands from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As part of the agency process, the Corps accepted public comments until May 28, 2020 (extended from original deadline of April 13, 2020). U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, Attention: Ms. Holly Ross, 1104 North Westover Boulevard, Suite 9, Albany, Georgia, 31707, or by email to CESAS-SpecialProjects@usace.army.mil.
* Refer to the applicant’s name (Twin Pines Minerals) and application number (SAS-2018-00554).
The Okefenokee Swamp
Covering 440,000 acres or 630 square miles, the Okefenokee is the largest blackwater swamp in North America and one of the world’s largest intact freshwater ecosystems. The swamp was designated a National Wildlife Refuge in 1937 and is the largest NWR east of the Mississippi. Since 1937 the protection has ensured the swamp remains largely unspoiled. “One of the coolest things about the Okefenokee is that it’s basically an intact ecosystem,” said Refuge Manager Michael Lusk, noting that the Everglades, while larger, had been ditched and drained. And while there once was logging in some parts of the Okefenokee, the swamp has been protected for more than 80 years. “What we have now is a large intact, functioning ecosystem and that is so rare, especially in the eastern U.S.”
Water Trails and Recreation
Today, 600,000 people visit each year to discover its amazing landscapes—including peat beds, island prairies, and cypress forests—and wildlife like American alligators, sandhill cranes, indigo snakes andgopher tortoises. National Geographic named the Swamp one of the 100 most beautiful places on the planet. In 2015, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia was also identified as one of the top 10 canoe trips in the world by Green Global Travel.
The refuge is part of the National Water Trail System, one of only 21 designated trails in the U.S., in part because it requires an act of Congress. The Okefenokee and the Suwannee River both have water trails that are part of Georgia River Network’s Water Trail System. The St. Mary’s trail is under development. To learn more about Georgia Water Trails, click here.
The swamp was formed 6500 years ago. The mining operation will last 8 years. As former Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbit once said “titanium is a common mineral while the Okefenokee is a very uncommon swamp.”
Save the Swamp Campaign – We want your swamp stories!
The Okefenokee Swamp has been the scene of countless adventures and awe-inspiring encounters with nature and as this national treasure faces the threat of a mining operation near its tea-colored waters, Georgia River Network wants your stories, photographs and videos that illustrate the importance of protecting the largest blackwater swamp in the U.S. Share your photographs, videos and stories in the comment section or send them directly to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we can SAVE THE SWAMP.
Letters to the Editor
April 22, 2020, Charlton County Herald. “Twin Pines Minerals resubmits application for mining near Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge” by Marla Ogletree. or click here for pdf
April 21, 2020. Jacksonville Times. “Mark Woods: Even during pandemic, Earth Day matters” by Mark Woods.”
April 21, 2020. Albany Herald, “Okefenokee Swamp, St. Marys River on Most Endangered list”.
April 18, 2020. The Brunswick News “Public comment period for proposed mining extended” by Gordon Rogers
April 17, 2020, WPXI Pittsburg, “Popular local river named one of the country’s most endangered”
April 16 Camden County News “St. Marys River, swamp join list of ‘Most Endangered’ by Jill Helton
April 15, 2020, News 4 Jax, “Mining plan lands Okefenokee, St. Marys on endangered US rivers list”
April 15, 2020. Brunswick News “St. Marys River named among nation’s most endangered” by Gordon Jackson.
April 14, 2020. Savannah Business Journal – “Okefenokee Swamp and St. Marys River named Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2020”
April 14, 2020. “2 largest US rivers top new listing of endangered waterways” by Jim Salter, Associated Press
April 14, 2020. NewsTimes. “2 largest US rivers top new listing of endangered waterways” by Jim Salter
April 14, 2020. Scientific American – “Portions of Mississippi and Missouri Rivers Are Most Endangered in U.S.” by Daniel Cusick
April 14, 2020. Georgia Recorder, “Feds Open Mining Plan to Another Round of Public Comment” by Stanley Dunlap
April 14, 2020. US News & World Report. “Mining Plan Lands Okefenokee on `Endangered’ US Rivers List”
April 14, 2020. New York Times, “2 Largest US Rivers Top New Listing of Endangered Waterways“
April 14, 2020. NewsBreak, “Okefenokee named among ’most endangered’ rivers”
April 14, 2020. USA Today, “Upper Mississippi River is the nation’s ‘most endangered river’ of 2020“
April 14, 2020, Savannah Morning News. “Okefenokee named among ‘most endangered’ rivers”. by Mary Landers
Paddle the Okefenokee and St Marys River in November
Help Upgrade Water Quality Standards on Water Trails - Triennial Review
Help us work toward this goal by taking part in the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s (EPD) Triennial Review Process. Please complete GRN’s recreation survey, collect documentation, and submit a comment letter to EPD.
Help Ensure Water Quality Standards Protect the Rivers Where You Recreate
Georgia River Network helps people experience the beauty of our state’s rivers and become involved in river protection. If you have fallen in love with a river and want to help increase protections for the rivers where you swim, paddle and recreate, we need your help now with making sure these rivers have appropriate water quality standards.
The Triennial Review
The water quality standards for our rivers are determined in part by how that river is used – “the Designated Use.” Each Designated Use has its own set of standards in order of least protective to most protective including “Coastal Fishing,” “Fishing,” “Recreation,” and “Drinking Water Supplies.” “Recreation” is above “Fishing,” because a person comes into contact more with the water (in the rationale of how the standards are currently written. We know fisherman come into contact with the water). Not all waterways have a specific Designated Use listed, and in that case they are designated as fishing, the lowest designation. The Federal Clean Water Act requires the state to review water quality standards at least once every three years and revise these designations as needed. This is called the Triennial Review. The state accepts comments from the public to be considered in this process.
Opportunity to Upgrade Water Quality On Rivers Where You Recreate
Many of you paddle and swim in rivers that the state has designated as “Fishing.” This means there is an opportunity to upgrade the water quality standards on that section of your river to “Recreation.” This involves submitting evidence/documentation of such use as well as other information requested by the state in order for consideration.
Georgia River Network’s Water Trails Network
Georgia River Network would like to advocate that all water trails in the state receive recreation designation. In 2017, the state passed a resolution in support for water trails. Georgia River Network supports and networks the water trails throughout the state in our Georgia Water Trails Network. A water trail is a segment of river that has a put in and take out and meet many other criteria to help the public access and paddle the river safely. Georgia has 18 designated trails (that meet Georgia River Networks criteria) and 18 under development. Many of these trails that are already being paddled are designated as “Fishing.” GRN has a map that matches the Designated Use with the water trails to make it easy for you to find out the designation.
We Need Your Help NOW
While this is a 3 year process, getting involved earlier rather than later gives you more of an opportunity to help your river through the process. The state examines a variety of information such as whether recreation is occurring year round, water intakes and discharges, boat ramps, money invested in trails, support from communities etc. They also seek input from stakeholders affected by changes.
How Can You Help?
We are reaching out to water trails, groups and interested citizens to take part in this process.
What do you need to do?
- Look up your river or water trail on Georgia River Network’s map that overlays water trails and designated uses and see if it has “Recreation” designation. If it does not, and should, time to get to work. You can also view information on each water trail in our EPD Designated Uses on GA Water Trails Spreadsheet that lists each section and its designation.
- Collect information providing evidence of recreational use as well as other documentation requested and write a comment letter. Add this information into the appropriate Water Trail Folder. Riverkeepers have created a toolkit with graphics that you can use to help collect stories and data on your river segment, and a sample letter is available upon request.
- Provide Support for Georgia River Network’s EPD Comment letter on behalf of all water trails by completing this SUPER QUICK and EASY WATER TRAILS RECREATION SURVEY. We ask that all water trail representatives participate so they are represented.
- Communicate with Georgia River Network on your effort so that we can assist you with your comment letter and make sure that your information is also in the hands of Riverkeeper groups in your basin.
- Submit your Comment Letter
EPD Public Notice and How to Comment
A public hearing was held to give the public an opportunity to comment on and provide items to be considered in this year’s Triennial Review and to serve as an official marker of the beginning of the 2019 Triennial Review process. Written comments may be emailed to EPD. Comments@dnr.state.ga.us or sent via regular mail addressed to: Elizabeth Booth, Manager, Watershed Planning and Monitoring Program, 2 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive, Suite 1152, Atlanta, Georgia 30334. If you choose to e-mail your comments, please include the words “Water Quality Standards 2019 Triennial Review” in the subject line to help ensure that your comments will be forwarded to the correct staff.
Get in touch and ask us your questions. Let us know that you are participating. Email us at email@example.com or call 706-549-4508. If you have specific questions about water trails, contact Gwyneth Moody at firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep Coal Ash Out of Our Waters
Coal ash is the waste left over from burning coal. It contains toxic metals and cancer-causing chemicals. Learn more about how to help keep toxic coal ash from polluting our water.
Coal Ash Legislation Passes!
In 2020, Georgia passed its first law addressing the threats posed by the long-term storage of toxic coal ash. We should celebrate this victory while recognizing that much more must be done to address the planned permanent storage of this dangerous waste in unlined pits alongside a number of Georgia’s rivers. We need a law that requires excavation and disposal of toxic coal ash in permitted, lined landfills away from our groundwater and surface water resources.
SB 123 (Sen. William Ligon) passed the House on June 23 by a vote of 142-15, and due to minor amendments changing the effective date, received final agreement by the Senate on June 24 (39-9).
SB 123 closes a coal ash loophole that currently encourages out-of-state coal ash dumping in Georgia’s solid waste landfills. The bill would raise the surcharge that local governments can charge per ton of coal ash from $1 to $2.50, in line with the surcharge on regular household garbage.
An amendment to the bill added tangentially related language that restores the full fees paid by Georgians into the Solid and Hazardous Waste Trust Funds. Thanks to the passage of HR 164 in March, we are supportive of restoring these fees, and will be calling on all Georgians to pass the constitutional amendment in November that will ensure these fees are exclusively spent on programs for which they are collected.
While it crossed over to the Senate and was voted out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, HB 93 (Rep. Rick Williams) ultimately failed to move out of Senate Rules and get to the floor for a vote. HB 929, which would have required long-term monitoring of groundwater around coal ash ponds, failed to receive a vote out of Senate Natural Resources.
Read more about coal ash in Georgia Water Coalition’s press release.
Trust Fund Honesty
The Georgia Constitution, as currently written, does not allow legislators to “dedicate” fees collected by the state to their intended use—whether to clean up environmental waste sites, fund teen driver programs or support training for peace officers. The fees collected are placed in the state general fund for allocation by state legislators as they deem fit, even though the bill creating the fee may say differently. GWC wants to see programs like the Solid Waste and Hazardous Waste Trust Funds receive the fees due so that EPD can clean up tire dumps, leaky landfills and contaminated properties.
HR 164 passed both the House and Senate! In November 2020, Georgia voters will have the chance to vote YES on this ballot question: “Shall the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to authorize the General Assembly to dedicate revenues derived from fees or taxes to the public purpose for which such fees or taxes were intended?”
Stream Buffers to Protect Rivers
The Georgia Water Coalition is continuing its intensive efforts to re-establish buffer protections on all state waters, after this vital water quality protection was limited by a 2015 Georgia Supreme Court decision. The Coalition is working with legislators on a simple, logical fix to ensure these vital protections continue to apply to our lakes, rivers and streams. Learn more at http://www.protectgeorgia.org/grn.html
Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Amendment
The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act (HB 332) and companion legislation calling for voter approval in a referendum this fall (HR 238) were both overwhelmingly passed by the State Legislature. The measures dedicates a portion of the existing state sales and use tax to the conservation of the state’s lands, waters and wildlife. HB 332 will now go to the desk of Governor Nathan Deal to be signed into law. HR 238 was on the ballot and approved by voters in November 2018. Learn more at https://www.georgiaoutdoorstewardship.org