Other Laws: Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act

The preceding chapters have discussed many of the most important, and most used, environmental statutes. A host of other statutes, however, may apply to a given situation. Most of these statutes are administered by either the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (EPD).

This section includes a high-level overview of another law you may encounter in pursuing environmental justice. This law may have exemptions or nuances that are beyond the scope of this section. If you have questions, please reach out to a lawyer for assistance. In addressing any environmental justice issue, one of your first tasks will be to determine which of these laws might apply to the situation you are facing.



Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act

(O.C.G.A. §§ 12-7-1 to -22)

The Georgia Erosion and Sedimentation Act was enacted to protect and restore the quality of Georgia’s rivers and streams, which have been impacted by development and its sediment-laden stormwater runoff. The Act requires that each county or municipality in the state adopt a comprehensive ordinance establishing procedures to govern land-disturbing activities (like construction) based on the minimum requirements established by the Act. The Act is administered by EPD and local governments.

The Act regulates land disturbing activities, which are defined as any activity which may result in soil erosion from water or wind, and includes clearing, dredging, grading, excavating, transporting, and the filling of land. The Act requires permits, called “land disturbing activity permits,” for all land disturbing activities that are not expressly exempted by the Act.

Permit applications must be accompanied by an erosion and sedimentation control plan, which must be approved prior to issuance of a permit. If the project you are concerned about does not have an Erosion and Sedimentation Act permit, it may have a permit addressing these concerns through the Clean Water Act’s NPDES permit system. See Water Quality Permitting for more on the NPDES permit system and Knowing What’s in Your Neighborhood for more about locating a specific permit.

The Act has specific exemptions for certain activities:

    • Construction of single-family residences disturbing less than one acre and not part of a larger development scheme are exempt from the permitting process, but still must meet the minimum protections set forth in the Act.
    • Certain mining activities, agricultural practices, farming operations, forestry land management practices, transportation projects, airport projects, electrical utility projects, and public utility projects are exempt from both the permitting process and the minimum protections.

The Act requires that any non-exempt land disturbing activity comply with the “best management practices” to reduce erosion and sedimentation. “Best management practices” are conservation and engineering practices that prevent and minimize erosion and resultant sedimentation, which are consistent with, and no less stringent than, those practices contained in the “Manual for Erosion and Sediment Control in Georgia” published by the State Soil and Water Conservation Commission as of January 1 of the year in which the land-disturbing activity was permitted.  Examples of minimum practices required by the Act include:

    • minimizing erosion from vegetative stripping and regrading,
    • preserving natural vegetation when possible,
    • reducing cut and fill operations,
    • stabilizing disturbed areas,
    • limiting exposure to erosive elements, and
    • providing sedimentation control and treatment to ensure adjacent waters are not affected.

Another minimum protection established in the act is a 25-foot buffer along the banks of any State water, including coastal marshlands. This buffer is extended to 50 feet if the water is a trout stream. Development activities are prohibited in these buffers unless a “variance” is granted by the director of the Department of Natural Resources, the specific criteria for which are determined by the Board of Natural Resources.

Either the director of EPD or the local authority (the governing body authority of any county or municipality that is certified pursuant to the Act) may issue an order to any person that does not comply with the requirements of the Act requiring work to stop until corrective actions have been undertaken. The violator may be subject to permanent or temporary injunctions, restraining orders, and civil penalties up to $2,500 per day or violation.

Individuals and communities can play a large role in carrying out the mission of the Act.

With the vast amount of land development occurring in the state of Georgia, EPD lacks the manpower to monitor and ensure compliance at all sites at all times. The public can alert EPD to violations of the Act and ensure that corrective actions are taken before water quality is further impaired.