Feds assert water rights to fight mine near Okefenokee swamp

By Hannah Northey | 05/14/2024 01:32 PM EDT

The warnings from the Fish and Wildlife Service could set up a legal battle if Georgia approves permits for a titanium mine near the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

 The black water of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

Like a mirror, the black water of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge reflects everything for miles away. Stephen B. Morton/AP

The federal government is asserting its right to water supporting the sprawling and pristine Okefenokee swamp in Georgia, a rare move that could escalate a legal fight over a proposed mine there.

The Fish and Wildlife Service in recent months has said in letters to Georgia regulators that it has “reserved water rights” in the 684-acre Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, which the federal government has managed since the 1930s.

The agency has also warned those rights could be undermined by a proposed mine near the swamp if developers pump out too much groundwater and imperil water needed to support the swamp, which is currently among the planet’s largest hydrologically intact freshwater ecosystems and home to a slew of endangered and threatened species.


That argument is significant given Georgia regulators are moving closer to finalizing permits for Twin Pines Minerals to mine for titanium near the swamp, a material used for everything from paint pigment to military equipment.