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Basins of Georgia
Altamaha River Basin
Chattahoochee - Flint River Basin
Blackwater River Basins
Coosa - Tallapoosa and Tennessee River Basins
Savannah River Basin

 


education: resources for k-12 teachers and students
river basins of georgia

by Gretchen Loeffler and Judy L. Meyer

Georgia's wealth of natural resources includes fourteen river basins, which support a rich diversity of native fish and mussel species. A river basin consists of the entire geographic area (hillside, valley, plain) from which water flows into the primary river. Rain falling within a river basin, or watershed, will run downhill until it reaches a stream. Small streams join other streams and eventually flow into a river and eventually that river flows into the sea. Large rivers are made up of an intricate network of smaller rivers and streams. Rivers not only provide habitat for fish, aquatic invertebrates, amphibians, and terrestrial fauna, but they are used for recreation, water supplies for communities, irrigation for agriculture, and transportation. The public has a vested interest in the protection and conservation of the waters in the state for they are a public resource, which is nonrenewable and critical to the integrity of the natural environments and public health in Georgia.

Georgia has a vast diversity of surface and groundwater resources. The EPA estimates that the state of Georgia has 44,056 miles of perennial streams, 23,906 miles of intermittent streams, and 603 miles of ditches and canals. Georgia has 4.8 million acres of wetlands, 425,582 acres of public lakes and reservoirs, 854 square miles of estuaries, and 100 miles of coastline. In 1995, groundwater made up 23 percent of the public water supply, 91 percent of drinking water sources, and 66 percent of irrigation use. The Coosa-Tallapoosa and Chattahoochee-Flint river basins encompass 38 percent of Georgia's total land area, provide drinking water to over 60 percent of the population, and supply 35 percent of the irrigation water for Georgia's agriculture. Populations in the northern part of Georgia rely heavily on surface water supplies, and populations south of the Fall Line rely mainly on groundwater supplies. Both surface and groundwater sources are highly susceptible to contamination from nonpoint source pollution, leaking landfills and underground storage tanks, and industrial processes. Some of the critical issues for long-term supply of ground water and surface water supplies include salt-water intrusion in the Upper Floridan aquifer in coastal Georgia, allocation of water equitably between Alabama and Florida, and meeting metropolitan Atlanta's water supply needs when the region is limited in surface water and groundwater sources. Two issues facing southwest Georgia are the depletion of the Clayton aquifer and the reductions in flow in the Flint River basin resulting from ground and surface water withdrawals for irrigation.

The fourteen river basins of Georgia will be described individually, under their official names. The rivers have been grouped according to drainage and geographic location. 1) The Oconee, Ocmulgee, and Altamaha rivers flow from the central part of Georgia to the Atlantic Ocean. 2) The Chattahoochee-Flint river basin flows through the highly urbanized Atlanta metropolitan area and eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico. 3) The five blackwater rivers in Georgia's coastal plain were grouped together. These rivers are the Ogeechee, St. Mary's, Satilla, Ochlockonee, and the Suwanee Rivers. The Ogeechee, Satilla, and St. Mary's drain to the Atlantic Ocean, while the Suwanee and Ochlockonee are Gulf Coast drainages. 4) The richest diversity of native fishes is found in the Coosa-Tallapoosa and Tennessee river basins. The Coosa River begins in the Blue Ridge Mountains and Tallapoosa River in the Piedmont, and both flow into the Mobile River Basin in Alabama. The Tennessee River flows northward and enters the Mississippi River via the Ohio River. 5) The Savannah River begins at the confluence of the Seneca and Tugaloo Rivers in the northeast part of the state and forms the border between Georgia and South Carolina. The Savannah River empties into the Atlantic Ocean near the coastal city of Savannah. American Rivers, Nature Conservancy, Georgia River Network, Georgia Adopt-A-Stream, Georgia Canoeing Assocation, Trout Unlimited, National Wildlife Federation, and the Georgia Wildlife Federation are some of the many environmental, educational, and community action organizations working throughout the fourteen river basins of Georgia.

Additional Information

Water Quality in Georgia, 1998-1999. Report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Prepared by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

Georgia Rivers: An Initial Assessment. August 10, 1998. Georgia DNR.

Solley, W.B., R.R. Pierce, H.A. Perlman. 1998. Estimated use of water in the United States in 1995. USGS Circular 1200.

 

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