In the 1960s through the mid-1970s there were many water quality problems in Georgia. Many stream segments were classified for the uses of navigation, industrial or urban stream, rather than fishing or recreation. Major improvements in wastewater treatment over the years allowed a number of the stream segments to be raised to the uses of fishing or coastal fishing which included more stringent water quality standards. The final two stream segments in Georgia were upgraded as part of the triennial review of standards completed in 1989. At that time all of Georgia’s waters were classified as either fishing, recreation, drinking water, wild river, scenic river, or coastal fishing.

This action represented the culmination of 25 years of effort to improve and protect water quality in order that all waters in Georgia could be classified for uses in accordance with goals in the federal Clean Water Act which provides for “the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish, and wildlife and provides for recreation in and on the water.” This goal had been interpreted by the USEPA to require waters of the State achieve standards associated with the classifications of fishing (including secondary contact recreation) or recreation. Based on Georgia’s progress to achieve this goal, the USEPA has reviewed and approved Georgia water quality standards every three years since 1972.

In 1989 the USEPA changed the interpretation of the Clean Water Act goal to include the requirement that all waters of the state be classified to protect the use of swimming or primary contact recreation. In order to comply with this change in federal requirements, the Board of Natural Resources adopted in December, 1989, revised standards which established a fecal coliform standard of a geometric mean of 200 per 100 ml for all waters with the use designations of fishing or drinking water to apply during the months of May-October (the recreational season). This standard provided the regulatory framework to support the USEPA requirement that States protect all waters for the use of primary contact recreation.

Toxic Substances

In addition, Congress made changes in the Clean Water Act in 1987 requiring each State to adopt numeric limits for toxic substances for the protection of aquatic life and human health. In December 1989 the Board of Natural Resources adopted 31 numeric standards for the protection of aquatic life and 90 numeric standards for the protection of human health.

Current Georgia water quality standards can be reviewed at the following Georgia EPD website: