The Georgia EPD announced on Earth Day 2014 that it would no longer enforce buffer on any stream or river in Georgia that did not have “wrested vegetation”.
As a land owner and a legislator this change concerns me greatly because naturally vegetated buffers on streams protect the adjacent land from damage by floods and washouts. Equally important buffers protect the quality of the water in our streams.
This current interpretation of Georgia law regarding “wrested vegetation” is confusing and unfair to private landowners. In a 2015 Georgia Supreme Court decision the majority opinion says: “In order for the buffer requirement to apply to state waters alongside banks without wrested vegetation, the legislature would need to take action to amend the statute.”
The Court thinks that the General Assembly needs to restore protection to all streams, not only those that flow so fast they tear plants loose from their banks. A large number of streams in GA are full of plants, including cypress and gum trees, but the water moves so slowly it does not tear even grass loose from their banks.
Whenever vague standards or rules occur in the law it can open the door to allow for special treatment for some. The rules should be clear for all and not allow special treatment for anyone with “connections” whether real or perceived. Clear rules protect us all.
Buffers have been in place since the 1980s in Georgia protecting our property next to streams from flood damage, and the deposit of stream-borne silt. These buffers have prevented land disturbing activities upstream from putting dirt into the water where it can move downstream, onto other people’s property.
At the suggestion of the Georgia Supreme Court the General Assembly needs to pass a law that says that all GA streams have buffers that start at the ordinary high water mark, which can be measured in several clearly-defined ways.
A group of legislators is suggesting the following definition be put in Georgia law. Buffers will be defined in terms of the “ordinary high water mark”. The “ordinary high water mark” means the line of demarcation along state waters established by the fluctuations of water and indicated by physical characteristics such as clear, natural line impressed on the bank, shelving, changes in the character of soil, destruction or wresting of terrestrial vegetation, the presence of litter and debris, or other appropriate means that consider the characteristics of the surrounding areas.
This definition plainly relies on common sense, easily recognized features on lakes and streams and it should be the law that puts vegetated buffers back in place to protect the rights of landowners with property next to lakes and streams.
It is important to realize that this definition does not change any of the buffers currently in place it just insures they will continue to be there to protect the value of our property and protect our streams and lakes from upstream run off and sedimentation.
We need your help.
Please notify your State Representative and tell them you want the buffer definition passed into law to maintain the protection of our land and streams.