Georgia Water Quality Standards

Clean Water Act Goals & Objectives

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The objective of the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) is to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Nation’s waters, and to achieve wherever attainable, the goal of providing for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, wildlife, and providing for recreation in and on the water.  Water quality standards are a key tool used by States to meet these goals and are a fundamental component of watershed management. Water quality standards are the foundation for numerous activities conducted by Georgia EPD including development of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs), issuance of National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, and assessment of State waters as part of the 305(b)/303(d) listing process.  The Board of Natural Resources establishes rules and regulations to protect Georgia’s surface water, the health of the people who use the water, and the aquatic life in the water.

Water Quality Standards

Water quality standards, found in Georgia’s Rules and Regulations for Water Quality Control (Chapter 391-3-6-.03), are made up of three components:

1. Designated Uses that establish the environmental use of the waterbody.  There are six designated uses in Georgia including:

(a) Drinking Water Supplies

(b) Recreation

(c) Fishing

(d) Wild River

(e) Scenic River

(f) Coastal Fishing

2. Numeric and Narrative Criteria protect the designated uses. Georgia has general criteria that apply to all waters of the State, which include both narrative and numeric criteria, and specific criteria that support a water’s designated use.  Specific criteria are for dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, and bacteria.  In addition, specific numeric criteria for lakes are for nutrients, chlorophyll-a, and pH. View a summary table of specific water quality criteria.

3. Antidegradation Policy protects and maintains the state’s water quality from new or expanding dischargers. 

Information on Georgia’s antidegradation implementation is given in the Antidegradation Implementation Guidelines, which may prompt new or expanding dischargers to use the Antidegradation Analysis Form (Industrial), the Antidegradation Analysis Form (Domestic), &/or the Wasteload Allocation Request form.  These forms and other helpful documents about permits for both industrial and domestic facilities are provided here.

Water Quality Standard Approval

State’s water quality standards must be approved by EPA before they are used for activities authorized by the Clean Water Act (such as issuing wastewater permits, drafting TMDLs, and assessing waters).  Georgia’s water quality standards that are adopted by the Georgia Board of Natural Resources can be found on the Secretary of State’s website. These rules may or may not have been approved by EPA. This is a consequence of the process for the adoption of water quality standards, which is as follows:

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  1. Standards are adopted by the Board of Natural Resources after which they are filed with the Secretary of State’s office.
  2. The Secretary of State posts the newly adopted Rules on their website.
  3. Georgia EPD must obtain the State Attorney General’s certification that the standards were adopted in accordance with State law.
  4. Finally, standards are sent to U.S. EPA for approval for Clean Water Act purposes. It can be many months between the time standards are adopted by the Board of Natural Resources and U.S. EPA approval is granted.

Latest EPA approved version of Georgia’s water quality standards

Adopted by the Board of Natural Resources August 26, 2015

EPA Approval Letter - August 16, 2016

Triennial Review

Federal Regulation 40 CFR 131.20 requires Georgia to review and revise its water quality standards from time to time, but at least once every three years.  This process, which revises water quality standards every 3 years, is known as the Triennial Review.

2019 Triennial Review *NEW*

Georgia EPD initiated the 2019 Triennial Review.  A public notice was distributed on January 7, 2019, and a public hearing was held on February 26, 2019. EPD provided a presentation and draft Guidance for changing a Designated Use.  Initial comments for consideration are being accepted through March 8, 2019 and may be sent to EPD.Comments@dnr.ga.gov subject: “Water Quality Standards 2019 Triennial Review” or mailed attention: Elizabeth Booth, Environmental Protection Division, Watershed Protection Branch, Watershed Planning & Monitoring Program, Suite 1152 East, 2 Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr., Atlanta, GA 30334.  Additional meetings and public hearing(s) for the Triennial Review Process will be held to allow the public further opportunities to provide input.

2016 Triennial Review

Georgia EPD initiated the 2016 Triennial Review process in early 2016.  A public notice was distributed on January 6, 2016, and a public hearing was held on February 26, 2016.  EPD received comments at this hearing and continued to receive input on proposed revisions until the end of the comment period on May 25, 2018.  A final public hearing was held on Tuesday, May 22, 2018.  This meeting provided the public a final opportunity to comment upon and offer input on the proposed rule amendments.  On December 6, 2018, EPD submitted the 2016 Triennial Review package to EPA and is awaiting approval.

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The technical documents to support the 2016 Triennial Review can be found here:

Water Quality Standards Development Plans and Guidance Documents

Information Links

Georgia has developed a mutually agreed upon strategy for adopting nutrient water quality standards.

Georgia’s Plan for the Adoption of Nutrient Criteria [August 2013 Revision]

U.S. EPA Letter of Mutual Agreement [August 2013] 

EPA, GA EPD, and SC DHEC have collaborated on a report intended to provide technical support in developing and establishing numeric nutrient criteria to support applicable designated uses in the states’ estuaries.

An Approach to Develop Numeric Nutrient Criteria for Georgia and South Carolina Estuaries

Outstanding National Resource Water (ONRW) is a designation granted to waters afforded the highest level of protection under Tier 3 of the antidegradation policy.  This designation is considered for waters of exceptional ecological, recreational, aesthetic, or historic significance.  Existing water quality shall be maintained and protected, and where feasible improved. GA EPD has developed procedures for recommending ONRWs. Procedures for Selection of Outstanding National Resource Waters

NPDES Permitting and Instream Flow Protection Strategies

Information Links

Georgia EPD has developed strategies to address implementation of total phosphorus and ammonia in NPDES permitting.

Total Phosphorus Permitting Strategy

Ammonia Permitting                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

GA EPD has developed an interim instream flow protection strategy that is used to maintain adequate water levels to protect Aquatic Life as part of the Surface Water and Groundwater Withdrawal permitting process.

Interim Instream Flow Protection Strategy