Georgia ban on well permits not too salient, DHEC says

bheffernan@islandpacket.comMay 27, 2013 

Georgia's Environmental Protection Division has clamped down on new permits for drawing water from an aquifer shared by coastal portions of Georgia and South Carolina.

However, the action, while welcomed, is hardly pivotal in the battle to stop salt water from seeping into the Upper Floridan Aquifer and contaminating wells on Hilton Head Island near Port Royal Sound, South Carolina officials said.

Communities in both states rely on the aquifer as a source for drinking water.

Catherine Templeton, director of S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said Georgia's moratorium is a "step in the right direction," though "it's more of a symbolic gesture than a scientific improvement."

"I will boil down what they have done: a commitment that they are not going to make it any worse," she said. "And that is great, because that is progress.

"The next step is: now make it better than it is."

Templeton says both states need to reduce the amount of water they draw from the aquifer, an underground reservoir. When too much fresh water is pumped out of the aquifer -- as is the case in the Savannah area -- it's replaced by salt water that seeps in, according to DHEC.

Georgia in 2006 banned new permits for wells that would have pumped water from an upper-level aquifer. The latest action extends the cap to a deeper aquifer. Water there is brackish and requires more treatment.

Three wells, all near Savannah, pump water from the deeper aquifer now, according to the Environmental Protection Division.

The decision to impose the cap was influenced by studies suggesting the upper and middle aquifers are interconnected, according to a release from the Environmental Protection Division.

South Carolina will still consider permits for new wells. Templeton said DHEC has not seen evidence suggesting that the levels are related, but said the agency would review the studies from Georgia.

Utility companies on Hilton Head Island have begun pulling lower-quality water from the middle aquifer so they can rely less on fresh water wells they might lose to saltwater intrusion.

The Hilton Head No. 1 Public Service District, which provides water and sewer service the island's north end, has lost six freshwater wells since 2000 and draws water from the Middle Floridan Aquifer that it treats in a reverse-osmosis plant.

Follow reporter Brian Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_Brian.

Related content:

Hilton Head district drills well to combat saltwater intrusion, April 18, 2013

SC threatens suit if water deal with Ga. isn't reached, Jan. 18, 2013

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