SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – The Georgia Water Coalition released its 2022 Dirty Dozen report on Tuesday.

Unlike in past years, which cited the worst offenses to Georgia’s waterways, this year’s report highlighted 12 legal actions that have shaped the Clean Water Act in the state.

Officials said the change is in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, which allows citizens and groups to take legal action against polluters when federal and state regulators aren’t doing enough to enforce the law.

“It takes a historic look at the last 50 years since Congress, interestingly in a strong show of bipartisanism overrode President Richard Nixon’s veto of the Clean Water Act and passed the landmark legislation in October of 1972,” said Joe Cook, Dirty Dozen author. “The progress that has been made since then in cleaning up Georgia’s water has been remarkable, but we still have a lot to do to make all the state’s water bodies swimmable and fishable.”

Four of the 12 cases involved lawsuits impacting local waterways:

  • Alma v. United States: In 1988, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency invoked its rarely used veto power to stop the construction of a 1,400-acre recreational reservoir in the tiny Bacon County town of Alma.
  • Burkhalter v. Claxton Poultry Farms: In 2000, citizens downstream of a Claxton chicken processing plant sued to prevent the continued pollution of their property on the Canoochee River. The lawsuit forced the facility to upgrade its waste management and secured funding to start Canoochee Riverkeeper (now Ogeechee Riverkeeper)
  • Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper v. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: In 2006 the Clean Water Act helped save a stand of 100-year-old cypress trees on a Bulloch County lake. In this case, the local riverkeeper argued that the harvest of the trees was not covered under the Clean Water Act’s exemption for forestry projects. The courts agreed and clarified that the legislation’s forestry exemption applied only to “ongoing silviculture,” not one-time harvests like the one planned for Cypress Lake.
  • Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper v. King America Finishing: A 2011 fish kill on the Ogeechee River in Screven County and an anemic response by state regulators to the tragedy, prompted Ogeechee Riverkeeper to file a lawsuit that ultimately resulted in nearly $6 million in investments to protect the river. Most of that investment would not have been made had the enforcement of clean water laws been left solely to state regulators.

The Georgia Water Coalition has been releasing its Dirty Dozen report for 11 years.