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

Designated uses are established for all waters in the state. From time to time, EPD revises the designated use(s) of a waterbody based on updated information and stakeholder input. EPD has developed guidance for recommending a change in the designated use of a waterbody.

EPD is in the process of revising the guidance document for recommending a change in designated use and will be holding a public meeting on February 25th 2022, to receive input from interested stakeholders.

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

In compliance with 40 CFR 131.21 (aka The Alaska Rule), 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

EPA’s approval on August 31, 2022, followed adoption by the Board of Natural Resources on January 28, 2022.

EPA Approval Letter - August 31, 2022

EPA Approval Decision Document – August 31, 2022

Triennial Review

The Clean Water Act section 303(c) and 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.

2022 Triennial Review

EPD held a virtual public meeting on Wednesday, March 15, 2023, at 11:00 am to discuss the risk targets associated with the human health criteria updates being evaluated for the 2022 Triennial Review. Meeting details were sent out in a public notice distributed on February 13, 2023.

Presentation from Human Health Criteria Public Meeting – March 15, 2023

EPD held a virtual public meeting on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 at 11:00 am to discuss the human health criteria updates being evaluated for the 2022 Triennial Review. Meeting details were sent out in a  public notice distributed on August 19, 2022 .

Presentation from 2022 Human Health Criteria Public Meeting – September 21, 2022

Georgia EPD initiated the 2022 Triennial Review with a public notice distributed on January 27, 2022 . An opening public hearing was held on Tuesday, March 22, 2022 via the Zoom web conferencing platform. During the hearing, EPD presented items being considered for the 2022 triennial review. Attendees had the opportunity during the hearing to provide comments and recommend topics for EPD to consider. Written comments were accepted through April 1, 2022. Additional meetings and public hearing(s) will be held throughout the Triennial Review process to allow the public additional opportunities to provide input. Future announcements and materials related to the 2022 Triennial Review will be posted here. Please sign up for our Water Quality Standards, TMDLs, and Grants mailing list here to receive future announcements directly to your inbox.

Presentation from 2022 Triennial Review Opening Hearing – March 22, 2022

2019 Triennial Review

As required by federal law and regulation, Georgia EPD initiated the 2019 Triennial Review with a public notice distributed on January 7, 2019. An opening public hearing was held on February 26, 2019.  Additional public meetings for the Triennial Review Process were held to allow the public further opportunities to provide input and the presentations made at the various meetings and hearing(s) can be found below. A final public hearing was held on Tuesday, December 13, 2021 to provide the public a final opportunity to comment and offer input on the proposed rule amendments. The rule amendments were adopted by the DNR Board on January 28, 2022 and were certified by the Secretary of State and Attorney General before being sent to EPA for approval on April 1, 2022. EPA approved the rule amendments on August 31, 2022.

Presentation from 2019 Triennial Review Public Meeting – September 13, 2021

Presentation from Chattahoochee – N. Highland Dam to Bull Creek - Designated Use Change Stakeholder Meeting – July 21, 2021

Presentation from Chattahoochee – Pea Creek to Snake Creek - Designated Use Change Stakeholder Meeting – June 29, 2021

Presentation from Designated Use Change Public Meeting  - June 17, 2021

Presentation from Triennial Review Update Public Meeting  - February 17, 2021

Presentation from Designated Use Change Stakeholder Meeting – February 2, 2021

Presentation from Opening Hearing of the 2019 Triennial Review – February 26, 2019


The technical documents to support the 2019 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 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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Georgia EPD has developed a strategy to address the implementation of changes to the bacteria criteria for water quality standards and NPDES permitting (Bacteria Strategy).

Bacteria Strategy

In September 2023, EPD finalized Georgia's roadmap for the development of a comprehensive Nutrient Reduction Strategy for point and nonpoint source discharges. This document builds upon a draft roadmap document that went through public review and feedback beginning in 2022. This document addresses existing laws, guidance documents, and permitting strategies, as well as EPD's proposed actions and timelines for revising or developing various related strategies and plans. 

Roadmap for Developing and Updating Nutrient Reduction Strategies