Group blames low EPD funding for Georgia’s water pollution problems

Members of a group of clean water advocates said the General Assembly’s failure to fully fund the Environmental Protection Division is a recurring theme of the organization’s annual list of problematic waterways and policies.

Joe Cook, a member of the Georgia Water Coalition, said the Legislature harms the state’s waterways when it doesn’t give the EPD the money it needs to function.

“The recurring theme is the funding piece — the fact that continually the EPD is hamstrung because they’re not getting the funds they need to do their work — that’s been the recurring theme since we started doing the ‘dirty dozen’ in 2011,” Moore told reporters.

Cook said funding for the EPD has not increased at the same rate as the state’s total budget in the past few years.

According to budget numbers provided by the House Budget and Research Office, Georgia set aside about $24.3 million of its $39.7 billion budget for the EPD in fiscal 2011. In fiscal 2018, the state’s budget grew to $49. 3 billion and the EPD got $30.8 million.

However, the division also receives dollars from the federal government and other sources, the office said. That contribution has risen by about $12.5 million since 2011.

The "dirty dozen," a list of the the 12 "worst offenses" against clean water in the state released by the coalition each year, included the continued pollution of the Coosa River, something Cook said is the direct result of the EPD not having enough money.

The division was tasked in 2004 with studying pollution in the Coosa River and Weiss Lake to determine how much waste could be released into the river while maintaining healthy water.

“EPD was supposed to have done modeling seven years ago,” said Cook, who also is the policy and communications director for the Coosa River Basin Initiative.

The list also included a few items that were affected by changes at the federal level, citing proposals by President Donald Trump’s administration, such as redefining what is protected under the federal Clean Water Act.

Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, a coalition member, said he hopes that people affected by the changes locally will advocate to keep the state’s water safe.

“To a certain extent there still is hope that local citizens are going to be quite vocal when they see the impact to their own property rights or their own quality of life,” he said. “When you’re changing something so drastically from the top down, what may be stripped away are people’s legal rights to challenge what impacts their own property.”