The Georgia Water Coalition, which released its annual “dirty dozen” list of endangered waterways on Wednesday, identified coal ash ponds like this one as a potential threat.

Coalition links energy efforts to endangered Georgia waterways

Coal ash. Natural gas fracking. Aged sewers. Potentially dangerous pipelines.

These and other threats to Georgia’s rivers and wells were highlighted Wednesday in the Georgia Water Coalition’s annual “dirty dozen” list of endangered waterways. The report, the sixth, urges Georgia residents, utilities, lawmakers and others to protect the state’s streams, lakes and drinking water sources.

“This year’s ‘dirty dozen’ especially highlights the inherent risks in coal, natural gas and nuclear energy alternatives,” said Joe Cook, a spokesman for the Coosa River Basin Initiative in Rome. “We need to keep moving forward to a clean-energy future and leave dirty energy behind.”

Highlights of the coalition’s “dirty dozen” imperiled waterways:

  • Groundwater near a coal ash landfill outside Jesup.
  • A polluted Coosa River from a coal-fired power plant near Rome.
  • The impact of coal ash ponds on Lake Sinclair near Milledgeville.
  • Future dangers of a proposed gas pipeline on the Chattahoochee, Flint and Withlacoochee rivers and the Floridan aquifer in southwest Georgia.
  • Sewer overflow harm to the South River in DeKalb County.

Much of the report focuses on the possible dangers associated with coal ash, the toxic byproduct of coal-fired power plants. As Georgia Power and other utilities shutter old coal-burning units, the ash must be disposed of carefully.

Georgia Power is closing 29 ash ponds statewide and sealing the ash in on-site ponds or digging out lagoons and sending the ash to landfills. Critics question whether the ash is being adequately handled. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution discovered this year that groundwater near two South Georgia landfills could be tainted by coal ash.

“Georgians think about smog and bad air when they think about our dirty power plants, but the truth is our waterways are also impacted and polluted,” said Jennette Gayer, the director of Environment Georgia, a water coalition member. “Even closed-down coal plants can pose a problem.”

Aaron Mitchell, the general manager for environmental affairs for Georgia Power, said the utility is spending at least $1.5 billion to clean up the lagoons and will sink 500 groundwater monitoring wells around the ponds.

“Georgia Power is committed to being protective of the state’s waterways and to fully comply with our permits,” he said. “We have implemented innovative measures to ensure that our pond closures are completed in line with our total commitment to do this in the right way.”

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