Georgia Designates First ‘Outstanding’ River

Media Contacts

Highest Level of Protection Given to the Conasauga

Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center

Atlanta, GA—Georgia’s Board of Natural Resources passed a rule change today that designates the headwaters of the Conasauga River as Georgia’s first ‘Outstanding National Resource Water’ (ONRW). The designation is the highest level of protection, identified in the Clean Water Act. Georgia is the only state in Southeast, except for Mississippi, that had not designated an ONRW. Environment Georgia first petitioned the state for an ONRW in 2007.

“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 designation 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.

Carl Riggs, Georgia Trout Unlimited Council Chair, lauded protection for such a unique and pristine fishery. “These wild headwaters are what help make Georgia a trout fishing destination, treasures like the Conasauga deserve our utmost respect and ongoing care–there is no doubt this River deserves this designation,” said Riggs.

Georgia’s first ‘outstanding’ river 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.

Murray, Gilmer and Fannin Counties as well as nearly 100 businesses, groups of outdoor enthusiasts and non-profits have voiced their support for the Conasauga’s designation. At a public comment meeting, hosted by Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division, Environment Georgia delivered 6,061 petition signatures form Georgians urging the Board to take action and designate the Conasauga as ‘Outstanding’.

“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.