Georgia One Step Closer to First ‘Outstanding’ River

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Highest level of protection would be given to the Conasauga

Environment Georgia Research & Policy Center

The Conasauga River would be the first river in the state to receive the status of ‘Outstanding National Resource Water’ (ONRW), the highest level of protection identified in the Clean Water Act, if the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) finalizes a proposal that was unveiled today at Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources Board Meeting. The designation would be made official as part of Georgia’s triennial review of water quality standard and is the culmination of an eight year campaign that was launched when 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 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.

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 visit 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.”

Georgia EPD will hold a public comment period on the proposal in June and the DNR Board will make a final decision on designation in August 2015.