Southern Regional Water Program

Research, Extension & Education Water Quality Programs through the Land Grant University System

Drinking Water & Human Health In Georgia

In Georgia, 78 percent of the total water used comes from a surface water source; 22 percent comes from groundwater. The primary source for public water systems is surface water (70 percent); primary source for rural users is groundwater (over 90 percent).

Drinking water sources are coming under threat from landfills and dumps, leaky septic tanks, urban runoff, and agricultural and industrial operations. Drought also threatens drinking water supply by reducing quantity and concentrating pollutants. In fact, there are at least twelve* streams or rivers and five lakes or reservoirs in Georgia that are listed as impaired by the State because they do not meet State specified criteria for drinking water quality.

Georgia is experiencing tremendous growth, not only in population, but also in operations (agricultural and industrial) that require water. The State of Georgia, along with scientists, engineers, and politicians, is continually investigating measures to manage water supplies for the future.

*There are likely more, but they have not been identified or listed.

Conditions in Your Watershed

The United States Environmental Protection Agency provides information on drinking water systems by county and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division lists information about environmental releases, environmental radiation, fish consumption guidelines, flood plains, ground water quality, surface water quality, and hazardous sites.

Supplying drinking water to the ever-increasing population of Metro Atlanta has given rise to controversy, namely the infamous “Tri-State Water Wars” between Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. These three states share water resources from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) basins and Georgia and Alabama share water from the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa (ACT) basins. Droughts in the 1980’s revealed problems with supplying water to all users in these river basins, especially in low flow conditions. The drought in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s and the population explosion in the Metro Atlanta area (the headwaters of both groups of river basins) only added to the problem. Of course, the Tri-State water problems are not limited to drinking water alone, but supplying drinking water to upstream users as well as downstream users is one of the most important points. The Upper Chattahoochee River Keeper has good information on how the water wars got started and their current status.

Resources and Programs

The University of Georgia (UGA) provides research, education, and extension resources to assist state and federal agencies, businesses and industry, communities and individual citizens in addressing water quality concerns specifically related to drinking water and human health. These programs are designed to provide information to audiences including farmers, homeowners, and youths.

Extension Outreach

Cooperative Extension Service
UGA is home to the Georgia Cooperative Extension Service (CES). Georgia CES is dedicated to enhancing the lives of Georgians through programs that provide technical support to agriculture and consumers and help Georgians become more healthy, productive, financially independent, and environmentally conscious. This goal is met by ensuring that research and information from colleges and universities world-wide make their way to Georgia’s citizens, by way of local extension agents and other members of the Georgia CES.

housing.gifUGA’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences has programs that help educate the general public on water conservation and drinking water protection. These programs include Water Smart Home and Home*A*Syst.

The CES also operates the Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories (ASEL), which provide analytical services to agricultural producers, consumers and agribusinesses. The ASEL works primarily to support County Extension Agents and other UGA faculty members who are engaged in research and outreach activities. These laboratories have capabilities to test well water and surface water to determine whether or not they are safe to drink.

River Basin Science and Policy Center
The River Basin Science and Policy Center (RBSPC) serves to unite the vast and varied water-related research and outreach expertise of The University of Georgia to support the development of sound water resource policies at the local, state, national, and international levels.

The RBSPC has many research projects, either sponsored or affiliated, that deal with drinking water quality and quantity.

Carl Vinson Institute of Government
The Carl Vinson Institute of Government (CVIOG) has been part of the University of Georgia's public service and outreach program for more than 75 years. Their mission is to use the knowledge base of the University of Georgia to improve the understanding, administration, and policy making of governments and communities in a democratic society. In carrying out this mission, they provide instruction, technical assistance, research and policy analysis, and publications that subsequently benefit not only the participants but everyone within their reach.

CVIOG has many programs and services available to the public, including environmental programs that address a number of water related topics in environmental policy and environmental quality and management. In particular, they have, in conjunction with National Association of Counties, the Conference of Southern County, Associations, and the Georgia Water Management Campaign, developed a guidebook for local governments to protect their drinking water source.

Engineering Outreach
The UGA Engineering Outreach Service provides practical solutions to Georgia engineering.gifindustries, communities, and agencies to achieve profitability, sustainable development, and conservation. They employ specialists in many areas, including water, wastewater and pretreatment as well as water quality assessment and modeling.

In conjunction with UGA’s Faculty of Engineering, the Engineering Outreach Service offers water quality laboratory services at the Faculty of Engineering Water Quality Lab. This lab conducts most standard water quality tests, but is not primarily a drinking water quality laboratory.

The University of Georgia’s Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department’s Watershed Group conducts environmental studies such as watershed assessments and source water assessment projects (both of which are required by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division) for communities in Georgia.

Source Water Assessment Projects (SWAP) focus on watersheds draining to drinking water intakes and inventory potential pollutant sources (mostly point sources) in those watersheds. The results of the SWAP are used by communities to develop Source Water Protection Plans, which will help protect drinking water intakes from pollution in their watersheds.

Watershed Assessments do not primarily focus on drinking water, but they do help identify non-point sources of pollution that may enter streams and eventually make their way to drinking water sources. They also help community planners make decisions about river and stream quality as development occurs.

Scientific Research

Coastal Drinking Water Issues
Researchers at UGA’s Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department are developing software, the Sea Water Intrusion Package (SWI), that can help Georgia coastal communities keep salt water out of their drinking water wells by enabling them to determine safe pumping rates. This research was written up in UGA’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Georgia FACES in April 2003.

Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Development
The UGA Institute of Ecology has been working the Etowah Initiative since 1998. The mission of this initiative is to help protect the ecological integrity of the Etowah River Basin by working with stakeholders to reduce the impact of human activities on water quality and biodiversity. The Etowah Initiative is a service-learning course that provides a structured and supportive format for students to apply policy, design and ecological principles learned in the classroom to the real world of people and policy. As part of this initiative, students issued a technical guidance for TMDL planning in the Etowah Basin and have been working to develop a TMDL for phosphorus for Lake Allatoona (part of the Etowah Basin), which is a source of drinking water for portions of northwest Georgia.

Selected Publications
The University of Georgia continues to conduct research dealing with drinking water and human health. Some selected publications are:

College and University Education

University of Georgia

Fort Valley State University

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