Natural Resources – Overview

Securing a Sustainable Future for Metro Atlanta

As metro Atlanta’s population continues to grow, protecting our natural environment becomes even more important to securing a healthy and sustainable future for our region.

The Atlanta Regional Commission works to ensure that our region continually improves its quality of life by protecting its most valuable natural resources: water, air and greenspace.

ARC does this by:

  • Providing planning staff for the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, which develops and implements a long-term comprehensive water management program for the 15-county Atlanta region.
  • Protecting the Chattahoochee River, the region’s primary source of drinking water, through the Metropolitan River Protection Act (MRPA), which establishes the Chattahoochee River Corridor. ARC is responsible for maintaining a plan to protect a green buffer on either side of the Corridor and reviewing any development plans that may affect the area.
  • Securing an abundant supply of clean water for the Atlanta region through ongoing litigation in the tri-state water wars involving Georgia, Alabama and Florida.
  • Monitoring the region’s air quality and developing transportation and land use plans designed to reduce air pollution, in compliance with the federal Clean Air Act.
  • Encouraging environmentally sustainable communities through the  Sustainable Connections Internship Program and the Green Communities program.
  • Planning for the identification, protection and management of regionally important resources, including greenspace and cultural and historic assets, and reviewing land use activities that have the potential to impact these resources.
  • Supporting the Atlanta Local Food Initiative (ALFI), which is working to build a more sustainable food system in the region.

Water Conservation Success

Water conservation has become a way of life in metro Atlanta.

Residents have traded old, inefficient toilets for new models that use only a fraction as much water. Utilities have improved their ability to find and repair leaks thanks to new tools such as sonar that help identify trouble spots. And “tiered” pricing, with rates that increase as the volume of water use rises, provides an incentive for consumers to conserve.

These are just a few of the conservation measures that have been put in place across the region since 2000 under the leadership of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.

These steps are making a dramatic difference. Metro Atlanta’s population has increased by about one million people since 2000. Yet during that stretch, total water withdrawals in the region decreased by 10 percent, while per-capita water use fell by more than 30 percent.

This success means we’ll be using much less water in the future than was projected just a few years ago.

In 2009, the Metro Water District projected the region would use 1.2 billion gallons of water per day by 2050. The Metro Water District’s latest forecast lowers the region’s expected water use to 862-898 million gallons a day in 2050 – a 25 percent reduction – even as our region adds nearly 3 million new residents.

Metro Atlanta’s Air Quality is Improving

While there is always room for improvement, the Atlanta region’s air quality has been moving in the right direction over the last decade. The EPA in 2016 determined that all of the region’s counties met the standard for particulate matter pollution.

By 2013, all nine of the region’s monitoring stations had met the more stringent 2012 particulate matter standard. Particulate matter pollution has been declining since 2007.

Chart: Particulate Matter pollution in the Atlanta region
Particulate Matter 2.5 Design Value by Monitor

Chart: Ozone pollution in the Atlanta region
8-hour Ozone Design Value by Monitor

Encouraging More Sustainable Communities

ARC works closely with local communities to help them become more sustainable.

The Sustainable Connections Internship Program is designed to connect university students in the Atlanta region who are interested in careers in sustainability with local governments and nonprofits in need of sustainability programming assistance. The internship program helps communities implement sustainability initiatives that they may not have the time or resources to complete on their own.

Green Communities is a voluntary certification program that helps local governments implement measures that will reduce their environmental impact. The program aims to create a greener, healthier and more livable region.

The program is making a difference throughout metro Atlanta. Examples include:

  • The city of Decatur established a “Pay as You Throw” program to encourage residents to recycle and reduce their solid waste.
  • The city of Norcross reuses materials for artistic purposes through several creative and educational initiatives.
  • The city of Alpharetta developed Rock Mill Park, which utilizes low-impact development and stormwater management best practices such as rain gardens, native and drought-tolerant plants, and bioswales.