Water Use Regulations
In Georgia, water use is regulated by the Surface Water Withdrawal Act (SWWA) and the Ground-Water Use Act of 1972. Our water allocation process is referred to as a “regulated riparian” system in which water use is governed by both common law and a permitting system. This differs from the water use model in the western portion of the country, where water use rights are determined by when they were acquired and how often they are used. The western system is often an inequitable model that rewards increased use with a continued right to the resource, rather than promoting conservation and protection of aquatic species.
In Georgia, we enjoy water as a public good for equitable use by all Georgians. However that public good must be regulated to prevent harm to the resource. According to the SWWA, anyone who withdraws more than 100,000 gallons per day from any surface water must acquire a permit from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). These permits are supposed to be issued only if they do not have “unreasonable adverse effects” on the resource.
To ensure against those adverse effects on water quality and water quantity, low flow protection must be incorporated into all surface water permits. This low flow protection includes a minimum instream flow level that must be maintained at a point below any water intake location or below a dam to protect water quality. In recent years, new policies have been developed to protect aquatic habitat with instream flows that mimic the natural flow regime in the waterway.
Learn about current water withdrawal permits in the Chattahoochee River Basin.