Southern Regional Water Program

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

Georgia Water Quantity and Policy

Historically, the State of Georgia’s surface waters have been allocated using riparian doctrine. In riparian doctrine, a person whose land abuts the water is said to be a riparian (on or relating to the bank of a water course) landowner. A riparian landowner’s rights are generally to the flow of the stream, to make a reasonable use of the water body (as long as other riparian landowners are not damaged), to have access, to wharf out, to prevent erosion of the banks, to the purify the water, and to claim title to the beds of non-navigable lakes and streams. (Grigg, Neil S., Water Resources Management: Principles, Regulations, and Cases, McGraw-Hill, New York, NY, 1996.)

More recently, Georgia’s water allocation policy has changed to that of Regulated Riparian Doctrine. Regulated Riparian Rights have come about as states recognize the need for water management as the needs of large water users increase and begin to compete for water resources. Rather than consider water a common resource (Riparian Doctrine) or as a private resource (Appropriative Rights Doctrine), regulated riparian considers water a public resource (a resource that can be used by all citizens, but public/industrial use is subject to regulation, usually in the form of permits). The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) regulates water use (mainly issuing permits to use a large amount of water), but does not take ownership of the right to use water away from riparian landowners. (Dellapenna, Joseph, and Steven E. Draper., Water Issues White Paper: Water Law Doctrines as Applied to Georgia Water Law, 2002 and Blount, Gregory,, Water Issues White Paper: The Role of Water Rights and Georgia Law in Comprehensive Water Planning for Georgia, 2002.)

Georgia also has vast groundwater resources. Ground water is allocated based on a Regulated Reasonable Use Doctrine. This doctrine is similar to the regulated riparian doctrine that Georgia has adopted for surface water and allocates groundwater by a comprehensive permit system for large users and public systems.

Conditions in Your Watershed

Supplying 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. The Chattahoochee River Keeper has good information on how the water wars got started and their current status.

As mentioned previously, drought has become a real threat to Georgia’s water supply and has given rise to water allocation issues. The University of Georgia’s College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences maintains a drought website with up-to-date information on drought issues. The Georgia State Climatology Office also maintains a website that has links to drought related resources.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division is responsible for monitoring and managing surface water. The EPD has developed River Basin Management Plans for each Georgia’s 14 major river basins. These plans discuss water quantity issues basin by basin.

Resources and Programs

The University of Georgia provides research, education, and extension resources to assist state and federal agencies, business and industry, communities, and individual citizens in addressing water quality concerns. These programs are designed to provide information for specific audiences such as farmers, homeowners, and youth.

Extension Outreach

UGA is home to the Cooperative Extension Service (CES). UGA 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 UGA CES.

The National Environmentally Sound Production Agriculture Laboratory is a unit of the University of Georgia's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences located at the Tifton, Georgia campus. NESPAL was formed in 1991 to address the issues of maintaining efficient agricultural production and assuring consumers of a safe and affordable food and fiber supply while protecting natural resources and the environment. Some of NESPAL’s programs are applicable to water quantity issues, especially in agriculture, such as their Ag Water Pumping and Agricultural Water Use Programs.

Other Resources and Programs

Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resource Management – Collaborative Research Support Program (SANREM CRSP)
SANREM’s mission is to assist in the creation and successful application of decision support methods, information, institutional innovations, and local sustainable agriculture and natural resource planning, management, and policy analysis at local, municipal, provincial, and national levels.

UGA’s River Basin Science and Policy Center
The University of Georgia has a wide array of land and water-related expertise among its faculties. As Georgia's Land Grant University, it also has a mission to use this expertise to help address the problems facing the state, as well as regional, national, and international problems. To mobilize the science and policy expertise at the university to address water resource concerns, we have established the River Basin Science and Policy Center.

Carl Vinson Institute of Government
CVIOG’s Environmental Policy Program conducts policy research on environmental and natural resource issues facing Georgia and provides technical support and training/educational programs for Georgia governmental officials. The Environmental Quality and Management of Natural Systems program assists communities in problem solving and decision-making through the use of ecosystem research, environmental program management, and problem definition and solution (in areas of environmental protection). Finally, CVIOG supports the Geographic Information System Lab for Decision Support, which develops digital databases and effective decision support and training techniques specific to environmental issues within and between communities in Georgia.


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