Water use impacts on Georgia’s water resources and threats from increased water intensive energy production
Young, Shawn P.
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Georgia faces serious challenges in managing water resources and irreversible impacts to aquatic ecology. Georgia’s fisheries and aquatic resources are in peril due to habitat degradation caused by water use for energy production, domestic purposes, agriculture, and industry. Water resources and the quality of aquatic life in Georgia’s rivers are expected to degrade significantly with future water demands from a growing population and potential climate change impacts, including the potential for more severe and longer-lasting droughts. In 2007, Georgia experienced one of its worst droughts in over a century, costing $1.3 billion in economic damage and prompting crisis responses. A vulnerable electricity system was also revealed. Power plants in the region, such as TVA’s Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama along the Tennessee River, reduced production due to high water temperatures and reduced river flows. The National Conference of State Legislators stated in 2008 that a higher risk of drought is a possible consequence of climate change and could impact Georgia’s economy. Future energy choices that do not take droughts into consideration can affect Georgia’s ability to cope in the future. The magnitude of freshwater consumption to supply the domestic, industrial, agricultural, and energy demands of rapid human population growth in Georgia has already resulted in reduced in-stream flows, interbasin transfers, and depletion of groundwater aquifers. If expansion of a water-intensive electricity system continues and Georgia utilities pursue this course, demands on Georgia’s already stressed aquatic ecosystems are likely to increase. The expansion could include the construction of two new nuclear power reactors, in addition to the two existing reactors, at Plant Vogtle on the Savannah River near Augusta, which is operated by Southern Nuclear Company (SNC). Consequently, flow and environmental regimes of Georgia’s rivers have undergone and will likely continue to experience dramatic changes causing and perpetuating a major decline in freshwater and diadromous fish populations (Warren et al. 2000; Duncan et al. 2003; Marcy et al. 2005). The value of Georgia’s water and aquatic resources should be integrated into government and corporate decision-making related to water use and energy management. Also, cumulative river corridor impacts and potential changes in precipitation as a result of climate change and subsequent impacts on Georgia’s rivers need to be evaluated and factored into policy decisions.
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