Coastal Georgia / Savannah-Upper Ogeechee Joint Council Meeting: November 8, 2018

November 8, 2018

Memorandum

To:                   Coastal Georgia Regional Water Planning Council

                        Savannah-Upper Ogeechee Regional Water Planning Council

From:               CDM Smith and Jacobs                   

Date:               November 8, 2018

Subject:           Coastal Georgia Regional Water Planning Council & Savannah-Upper Ogeechee Regional Water Planning Council: Joint Meeting

 Draft Meeting Summary (subject to Council review and approval)    

This memorandum provides the meeting summary of the Coastal Georgia (Coastal) and Savannah-Upper Ogeechee (SUO) Regional Water Planning Councils (Councils) Joint Meeting, held on November 8, 2018 at the Screven County Community Center in Sylvania GA. This memorandum provides a summary of the major items discussed at the Joint Council Meeting. The meeting began at 10:00 AM and followed the Joint Council Meeting Agenda.

1) Welcome and Introductions

SUO Council Chairman Ron Cross opened the meeting, welcomed Council Members and Guests, and asked each Council Member (CM) and attendee to introduce themselves. CDM Smith, a Planning Contractor (PC) provided an outline of the topics that would be covered during the Council Meeting. The Councils approved the Joint Meeting Agenda.

2) Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study (USACE)

Steve Fischer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) provided an overview of the Savannah River Basin Comprehensive Study, which is reviewing the current authorized purposes and operating plans for the Hartwell, Russel and Thurmond reservoirs with a particular regard to flood risk management.

USACE collected comments last summer on the draft summary but a funding imbalance between project partners and the Federal government has stalled progress. The project is aiming to restart in the new year, moving toward a final report in February 2019 and a final study approval in May 2019.

Following the presentation, a CM asked for more detail on the funding issue. Mr. Fischer explained that work in-kind needs to balance the federal allocation. The three project sponsors (GADNR, SCDNR, and The Nature Conservancy) are documenting in-kind contributions to resolve the issue.

The Savannah Riverkeeper asked about the upcoming relicensing for Stevens Creek and whether they need to follow the recommended drought contingency plan in their relicensing. Mr. Fischer replied he will need to find out; the first meeting for relicensing is next month and he will follow up with the Riverkeeper after that meeting takes place.

3) SHEP Fish Passage at the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam (USACE)

April Patterson, PM for the Savannah Harbor Expansion Project (SHEP) Fish Passage at the New Savannah Bluff Lock and Dam, provided an update on the project. When the dam was built in 1937 to improve navigation between Savannah and Augusta, it blocked the passage of migratory fish to historical spawning grounds.  As the lock and dam have aged and commercial navigation ceased, the lock and dam have fallen into disrepair. Since it is not a flood protection dam, it is lower on the priority list for maintenance.

The WIIN Act of 2016 de-authorized the lock and dam as a structure to support navigation and authorized the Corps to evaluate, design and build a fish passage as required for SHEP mitigation while also continuing to provide a pool behind the structure for upstream water supply and recreation.

The presentation walked through various alternative designs and the potential impact on upstream pool elevations. A tool has been created, and should be publicly available shortly, which visualizes the potential water surface elevations interactively on Google Earth imagery.

The modeling results presented were for a flow of 5,000 cfs which is a relatively low flow condition (flows are greater than 5,000 cfs approximately 77% of the time). A CM asked what the highest flow seen at the location is and discussion indicated flows of 30,000 – 40,000 cfs have been observed.

Another CM asked what time of year the sturgeon are typically migrating and what are the expected low flows during that time frame. Migration is typically in spring but there are occasionally fall runs where the fish get up into staging areas prior to spawning. The flow regimes specific to those periods were not immediately available.

A draft report will be available for public review in February 2019. This will contain the USACE’s currently recommended alternative.  The final report with the final decision is then planned for June 2019. The project will then move into design and construction.  Construction must be started before January 2021.

A question was asked about whether Congress has to allocate funding every year to continue projects and whether there is a danger year to year that funding can disappear. The USACE does have to wait for the budget from congress each year and then adjust funding accordingly. However, the fish passage must be constructed before SHEP construction is complete, and Georgia is also a partner for funding.

Chairman Cross expressed his appreciation to both USACE presenters for their attendance at the Joint Council meeting.

4) EPD Permitting Activity Updates

Jennifer Welte with EPD provided an update on permitting activity since the previous council meetings. For water withdrawal permits, the Oak Grove Utility Company was granted an expansion of their groundwater withdrawal permit in Glynn County from 0.162 to 0.26 MGD. There were no updates for the SUO region regarding water withdrawal permits.

For wastewater permitting, there were two permit terminations in Chatham County. One was for the Boasso American Corporation facility which closed, and the other was for Georgia Power’s Plant Kraft facility, which is retiring. In Effingham County, a new permit was issued to Edwards Interiors, a metal finishing facility, who discharges to the City of Springfield’s water reclamation facility. In the SUO region, a new land application system permit was issued to the YMCA in Lincolnton for Camp Lakeside. Augusta Coating & Manufacturing was also granted an industrial pretreatment permit for metal finishing, with their wastewater discharging to the City of Thomson in McDuffie County. In Richmond County, Fibrant, a fertilizer manufacturer in Augusta, has shut down and their permit was terminated. In Stephens County, the Fieldale Farms poultry processing facility wants to modify their land application system. A public hearing will be held regarding that project.

As part of the federal NPDES Electronic Reporting rule of 2015, the second phase of implementation must be complete by December 2020. Applicable electronic reporting requirements are being specified in NPDES permits issued by EPD, and the DNR Board adopted rule updates in September 2017 to ensure consistency between state rules and the federal eReporting Rule.

Two updates to Georgia’s water quality standards were also highlighted. The first is a clarification to the narrative water quality standards that was adopted by the DNR Board in March 2018. The change is for clarification only and does not change the stringency of the water quality standards. A CM asked what motivated the wording change, especially as it seemed some subjectivity had been added. EPD noted that there had been a legal challenge prompting review of the language and the wording is now more representative of how the rule has been implemented.

The second update to water quality standards is the Triennial Review of the standards that is currently out on public notice; a public hearing is scheduled for May and EPD plans to ask the DNR Board to adopt the updates to the water quality standards in June. The updates would include clarifying the antidegration rule, adopting EPA’s 2016 recommended aquatic life cadmium criteria, and adopting bacteria criteria for the protection of secondary contact recreation.

EPD also highlighted some of the most recent general permit reissuances which included the Industrial General Permit in June 2017, the Phase I Medium MS4 General Permit in April 2017, the Phase II MS4 General Permit in December 2017, and Construction Stormwater General Permits in 2018. General permits are reviewed and reissued on a 5-year cycle.

5) EPD Seed Grant Opportunity Update

Jennifer Welte from EPD overviewed the current opportunity for seed grant funding. This funding can go toward supporting any of the recommended water management practices (e.g., data gathering, implementation, technical guidance) from the Regional Water Plans.

There is up to $75,000 of state funding available for a project. The provided state funding can account for 60% of the total project funding, with 40% needing to come as in-kind match from the project sponsors.  For the 40% sponsor match, 10% must be in cash while up to 30% can come from in-kind services. Council chairs must endorse the projects submitted from their regions. There have previously been successful grant applications in both the Coastal and SUO Council regions.

A pre-application meeting must be held with EPD by November 30th, although this can be by phone. The application deadline is December 14th. Additional information is available at: https://epd.georgia.gov/regional-water-plan-seed-grant-funds

Following the overview, it was asked whether some of the match could be through additional federal funding sources. It was clarified that another federal grant cannot be used as match.

6) Continued Regional Water Planning Support

PC noted that planning contractors have had their contracts extended through December 2019 to continue to support the councils. For council meetings, the target is quarterly meetings, but this is at the pleasure of the Councils. At a minimum two meetings a year should be held per council, but joint meetings can be considered.

For future potential meetings, the Altamaha Council is interested in partnering with the Coastal Council for a potential joint meeting exploring industrial water use and the 100 Miles report. This could aid in starting discussions for updated methodology for industrial demand forecasting during the next round of planning. Also being considered is more information on the water demands associated with power production, especially with regard to renewable energy. CMs noted during discussion that an earlier planning assumption was that renewables would only be 2% of total power production, but it now looks like renewables could account for as much as 20%.

The PC is also available to support outreach activities. While council members are very knowledgeable on the contents of the plan and recommendations, there is a need to spread this knowledge to implementing actors. The Coastal Council is targeting their outreach in subregions, attempting to bring together local implementing actors and focusing on the topics most of interest to the geographic region.  

EPD stated they have reached out to the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) and the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) to see if those organizations would like to have a regional water planning session at their conferences or training session.  This would potentially include a brief presentation and panel discussion.

There was a discussion on the importance of informing representatives and state elected officials on the Regional Water Plans. With the new governor, perhaps this is a good time to reach out and get a restart with new appointments and regained focus on water planning.

The PC is also available to aide Councils in updating their websites. Currently the Regional Water Plan, technical material, and meeting summaries are provided on the Council specific websites but Councils are welcome to add additional content. One idea for the Coastal region was a “State of the Hydrology” page bringing in relevant monitoring data from various sources.

The PC is also available to coordinate speakers or webinars on topics of interest or continuing education. A survey is being considered to gather interest levels for different topics.

Also noted was once the Office of Planning and Budget comes out with new population forecasts, the councils can start the process of investigating how these compare to previous estimates. Water demand forecasts can also then begin once the population numbers are available.

7) Public Comment Period

The Savannah Riverkeeper had comments for the Councils. She noted that the City of Tallulah recently had a permit revoked since it would have required selling river water across basins. A well in-basin was found for utilization instead. She noted to be careful of interbasin transfers where the water source is in one basin and any discharges are released back to another basin. She also noted that SC DNR is considering Groundwater Capacity Use Areas in the western portion of the state. Groundwater use tracking is now currently required in coastal areas in the hope that this would help to level the playing field and keep requirements consistent. She also noted the start of a project between Augusta and Savannah of “putting the River back together”. Approximately 40 miles of swamps and wetlands that were previously cut off from the river are hoping to be incorporated to help with water quality. The Councils can expect to start hearing more about that effort.

Following the public comment period, the Joint Council meeting concluded.  Each individual council then met separately to discuss council specific business.

8) Meeting Attendance

The table below summarizes the Coastal and SUO Council Members in attendance as well as public and agency attendees.

Affiliation

Name

Coastal Georgia Regional Water Planning Council

Michelle Liotta

 

Reginald Loper

 

Phil Odom

 

Brian Nease

Savannah-Upper Ogeechee Regional Water Planning Council

Charles Cawthon

 

Ron Cross

 

Dan Fowler

 

Patrick Goran

 

Scott MacGregor

 

Larry Walker

 

Lee Webster

 

Allen Saxon (proxy for Tom Wiedmeier)

 

Scott Williams

Georgia EPD Representatives

Jennifer Welte

 

Haydn Blaize

 

Hailian Liang

 

Reid Jackson

Regional Water Planning Council Planning Contractors

Shayne Wood

 

Jenny Bywater

 

Lee Smith

 

Laura Hartt

Public/Agency Attendees:

 

USACE

April Patterson

USACE

Steve Fischer

Savannah Riverkeeper

Tonya Bonitatibus

Savannah Riverkeeper

Additional Guest