Atlanta, GA--At a public hearing held by the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) today Environment Georgia activists delivered over 6,000 petition signatures in favor of designating the Conasauga River as Georgia’s first ‘Outstanding’ river.
The proposed ‘Outstanding National Resource Water’ (ONRW) designation is the highest level of protection identified in the Clean Water Act and is part of a package of rule changes being proposed by EPD as part of their triennial review of water quality standards.
“Thousands of Georgians agree—the Conasauga River deserves to be Georgia’s first ‘Outstanding’ river,” said Jennette Gayer Environment Georgia’s Director. “The headwaters of the Conasauga support one of the most biodiverse river ecosystems in the country plus it is a truly breathtaking part of our state to visit and enjoy.”
The ONRW title provides protections designed to prevent both point and non-point sources of pollution. New point sources of pollution, such as pipes, that are channeled into the designated segment are prohibited. Temporary changes to water quality could be allowed as a result of non-point source pollution but only if water quality would be maintained or improved in the long term.
"I have probably paddled 100 Georgia rivers, and none is more beautiful and deserving of being Georgia's first ONWR than the headwaters of the Conasauga," said Daniel MacIntyre, Chairman of the Georgia Canoe Associations Legal Committee.
The proposed ONRW lies within the Cohutta Wilderness Area where cool, clean waters support outstanding trout fishing. Just beyond the border of the Cohutta pristine headwaters feed a snorkeling hole where outdoor enthusiasts can sneak a peak at more than 90 different fish species and 25 species of freshwater mussels. Twelve of these fish and mussel species are federally designated as endangered or threatened species.
“The southeast is the fastest growing region in the country, we need to make sure we are protecting and celebrating the resources that make Georgia a beautiful place to paddle and live,” said Gayer. “It is so much easier to protect pristine rivers similar to the Conasauga before they become polluted, that is why the ONRW designation is such an important tool.”
The Board of Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources will make a final decision on designation in August 2015.