May 14, 2024 - News

"Dirty Dozen" waterways on the brink

Illustration of a waste water pipe combined with a magnifying glass

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Georgia's "Little Amazon" on some days reeks of eggs and turns black—thanks to a pulp mill's discharges, according to a yearly roundup of the state's most endangered rivers, creeks and bodies of water.

Why it matters: The Georgia Water Coalition's annual "Dirty Dozen" spotlights how the state's precious and overlooked rivers like the Altamaha are bending under pressure from development, industry and politics.

How it works: The Dirty Dozen is not a list of Georgia's most-polluted waterways, says the coalition, which is made up of more than 250 environmental advocates.

  • Instead, it is a list of what the coalition considers are the 12 worst offenses threatening Georgia's water — each illustrated through an affected local river.

Zoom in: In each example, the coalition points to public policies that fail to protect the state's water resources.

Forever chemicals: The coalition says utilities and industries send a large amount of PFAS, some of which are harmful and accumulate in the human body, into the Conasauga and Ogeechee rivers.

Okefenokee Swamp mine: Another lowlight, according to the advocates: the General Assembly's failure to pass legislation protecting the Okefenokee Swamp from the potential risk of a proposed mine.

Pulp mill: The report's authors say Georgia environmental regulators should use an upcoming permitting process to force a pulp mill near Jesup to update its pollution control technology.

Data Centers: Gov. Brian Kemp's decision to veto legislation that would suspend tax incentives for water-hungry data centers, combined with Georgia Power's state-approved plan to burn fossil fuels to meet data centers' energy needs, further strains all Georgia rivers, the report says.

What's next: The group trumpets the environmental community's success stories — the "Clean 13" — later in the year.

Read the report and proposed solutions

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