Partnership looks to protect local water quality
In the last year, 27 volunteers have been trained to monitor a stream site and report the results, keeping track of potential pollution problems and environmental changes.
The volunteers are the result of a partnership between the Yellow River Water Trail (YRWT), the Georgia Wildlife Federation (GWF) and the City of Covington, offering the workshops and allowing the Yellow River Water Trail to use the web lab and equipment at the Alcovy Conservation Center on Hazelbrand Road.
According to Tamela Mills, GAAS Community Coordinator and Trainer for the Yellow River Water Trails, Kevin Sorrow, Covington’s arborist, provides supplies such as chemicals and bacterial films, as part of the city’s Best Management Practices program, so that volunteers have the tools and training needed to gather reliable data.
“Georgia Wildlife Federation and the City of Covington have been wonderful partners. We are grateful for their collaboration and shared resources, and we’re excited to be monitoring more waterways,” said Mills.
GAAS is a program of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to promote and track water quality statewide.
Mills said that when a volunteer adopts a stream site they become responsible for monthly monitoring. Results are reported, raising awareness of potential pollution problems in a community, building a baseline of water quality data so environmental changes are more easily recognized, and increasing the likelihood of detecting pollution problems quickly.
“More trained eyes on the waters leads to faster and more effective pollution detection,” Mills said. “The YRWT is the only GAAS [Georgia Adopt-A-Stream] training program in a six-county area, but it also serves environmental enthusiasts anywhere in the state, which is a standard policy for GAAS programs. A state park staff person from Helen, Georgia, was one of the first workshop attendees in Newton a year ago. She has since become a trainer herself through the park.
As a result of the partnership, 13 workshops in bacte- rial, chemical and macroinvertebrate monitoring have been held. The 27 people who trained earned 48 certificates. As the program gains visibility, YRWT hopes to serve more and continue work towards improving local water quality, Mills said. Tackling water monitoring Mills reports that Newton County has new and dedicated volunteers tackling water monitoring in the area. They include:
Jill Woodward, who monitors Cornish Creek on the Georgia Wildlife Federation grounds;
Dave Sheffield, has adopted Big Haynes Creek, the northern-most tributary in Newton;
Smitty Smith, Skip Davis, Terry McMillan, Al Vedder and Jared Goden, members of the Jackson Lake Homeowners Association, have been lake monitors for several years. They are the only group in the area to use advanced monitoring equipment that is being trial tested by the state GAAS office. This group has also adopted several new strategies to better monitor the downstream ends of the South, Yellow and Alcovy rivers as they enter Jackson Lake;
Debra Griffith, YRWT Chair and a microbiologist by profession, has taken on the monthly task of monitoring three Yellow River tributaries— Gum Creek, Norton’s Branch and Beaverdam Creek;
Kemily Pattillo, AP Chemistry Teacher at the Newton College and Career Academy, is reviving a water monitoring program that former environmental science teacher Jim Stansell managed until he retired about three years ago. Pattillo’s STEM students will be conducting water monitoring on the banks of the Yellow River. This will be the only student program in the county.
Christian Goerner, a YRWT Summer Intern and Wofford College Senior, assisted in a two-month stream buffer study of Town Branch Creek in downtown Covington this summer using chemical testing and visual stream survey tools.
Mills tests on Town Branch Creek at Rebecca Street, at the tributary by Newton High School and spot testing county-wide. She also conducted the buffer study on Town Branch Creek, looking at erosion and water quality in 16 sites along the two-mile creek. Mills has been involved in GAAS for four years and was first trained by Phillips. Uploaded to a state database The data gathered is uploaded to a statewide data- base available for anyone to observe, Mills said. Using the database, people can track water quality, identify pollution, research environmental concerns and raise awareness.
According to Harold Harbert, the Georgia Department of National Resources (DNR) Environmental Outreach Manager over GAAS, the most recognized monitoring event in Newton County occurred several years ago when former GAAS Trainer Robert Phillips discovered spoiled eggs from a chicken farm on a local river were being dumped into the waterway. The issue was quickly addressed.
Three primary certifications are available through GAAS and offered locally are:
Bacterial monitoring detects E. coli populations, an indicator species for other pathogenic bacteria. If high levels of bacteria are detected, an assessment of possible sources will be gathered and the state and local agencies may be contacted to troubleshoot.
Chemical monitoring is a brief snapshot of the health of the stream using pH, temperature, ion conductivity and dissolved oxygen. This is useful for detecting ongoing pollution such as leaking pipes and lawn chemical run-off. Salt spread on roads during a winter storm would be detected with basic chemical monitoring for a few days and then gone, but the effects would be long-lasting, Mills said.
Those long-lasting effects are detected with macroinvertebrate monitoring. Macro-invertebrates are small, fresh water-dwelling insect larvae, crustaceans and worms. Dragonfly and damselfly larvae, aquatic worms and crayfish are a few found locally. This tool gives a longrange health profile. A sign that water quality has deteriorated is finding only pollution-tolerant macro-invertebrates in the stream or river. Trained eyes, Mills said, can look for causes. If species known to be very sensitive to pollution are found, then the water quality has been and continues to be high.
“Think of these [macroinvertebrates] as the canaries in the mine shafts, but they choose to live in a given area. Monitors simply look to see which ones are present,” said Mills.
Upcoming training workshops
Fall workshops will take place in the evenings in October.
A bacterial monitoring workshop will be on Thursday, Oct. 13, from 5 to 9 p.m. Chemical monitoring will be held Tuesday, Nov. 15 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Space is limited and registration is required. To register for a workshop and adopt a section of the stream, contact Mills at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On the banks of Cornish Creek, Tamela Mills, GAAS Coordinator and Horticulturist, discusses how to choose a test site during a chemical monitoring workshop on the grounds of Georgia Wildlife Federation’s Alcovy Conservation Center.
Katherine Hudspeth and her daughter Virginia of Avondale Estates are practicing chemical monitoring in the field at Georgia Wildlife Federation in Covington.