Southern Places

The St. Marys River: She (and, oh yes, this is a feminine river with her entrancing curves and mysterious ways) is tea-dark, exquisite beyond compare and fragile. And now she is being attacked yet again by those who would drain her, damage her and use her for their own gain.

Allow me to introduce you to this lovely lady:

The St. Marys is a magical and mystical blackwater river and, as such, was recently designated by the Southern Environmental Law Center as one of Georgia’s “endangered places.” She surfaces as a tiny stream known as “River Styx” and flows from the western edge of Trail Ridge, the primordial remnants of a barrier island system and into the southeastern Okefenokee Swamp. From there she flows south, then east, then north, then east-southeast until finally, after a journey of 125 river-miles, she delivers her unique brew into the Atlantic near St. Marys, GA and Fernandina Beach FL – a mere 50 miles from her birthplace. If you’ve not had the chance to explore this extraordinary river then you are missing an experience beyond compare.

I was horrified to learn that Miocene Holdings LLC of Dallas, Texas, has applied for a surface water withdrawal permit application – a permit that is currently under consideration by the EPD. This proposal would remove approximately 350,000 gallons of water per day from the delicate St. Marys River (already a low-flow river). The water would be then be filtered to remove the natural tannins (to be used as a soil additive for agricultural purposes) and then returned to the river – altered beyond all recognition.

Consider the grave ramifications of this project:

The location selected for the removal of the water is a low-flow area and all data indicates that the proposed removal amounts could well exceed the volume of total flow at the withdrawal sites.

And what of the result of discharging this “filtered” water to the St. Marys River: a high-quality blackwater river with a naturally low pH level? The dark “tea-hue” of the water is a result of decaying vegetation that produces tannin – a naturally occurring, water-soluble organic compound. Through the process of filtering to remove these tannins, Miocene Holdings would alter the fundamental nature of the river’s water. Discharging water treated to a regulatory pH level of 7 into a low-volume blackwater river with a natural pH range of 3.8 – 4.2 would have immeasurable impact upon the river’s ecological functions. In addition, the proposed industrial filtration process could also further deplete dissolved oxygen levels in water being returned to a river system already naturally low in dissolved oxygen.

That is the science involved. These are indisputable facts. Now let’s turn to the “big picture” – the environmental and social fall-out should this misguided project be approved. By altering the water itself we risk destroying the many native plant species that are at home along her banks: the bald cypress, longleaf pine, black gum, southern magnolia, red maple, American holly, poplar, black willow, river birch and variety of oaks.

And then there is the wildlife: the osprey, bald eagle, white-tailed deer, black bear, bobcat, raccoon, manatee, otter, beaver, gopher tortoise, alligator and indigo snake.

With its unique tidal, marsh, stream and estuary ecosystem, the St. Marys River Basin has provided a wealth of food from the time of the Timucuan Indians (at least 13,000 years prior to the European “invasion” of missionaries and colonists). Fish, shellfish, deer, diamondback terrapins, water and wading birds and even sea mammals made for a rich diet. The river has formed the history of this area and continues to shape and entrance those who are blessed by her presence. To fully understand this treasure you need to drift quietly along her meandering trail  – a silent pathway of antiquity and beauty.

And I wonder now how many of our nation’s natural treasures we can sacrifice to industry before we incur losses that erode the very essence of who we are. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

To you all… please protest this permit application by writing to Mr. Ade Oke, Georgia Environmental Protection Division, 4220 International Parkway, Suite 101, Atlanta, GA 30354 (Subject: Miocene Holdings surface water withdrawal permit).

Alex Kearns

Alex Kearns

Alex writes for a variety of national and international publications. A relative newcomer to the United States, she co-founded her town's first environmental organization (The St. Marys EarthKeepers, Inc.). In turns bemused, confused, entranced, frustrated and delighted, she enjoys unravelling the eternal enigma that is the Deep South.