The four purple dots indicate stream sites being monitored for Pickens County.
On a scale of one to 10 Catherine Fox, the senior scientist with an environmental firm that monitors water quality at sites across Georgia, rates streams in Pickens County as top notch.
“I’d give them a nine,” said Fox, whose company has monitored four stream sites for Pickens County government since last year. “They’re among the best.”
Fox also gave Pickens leaders kudos for going above and beyond what they are required to do for water quality monitoring and reporting.
Among many other services, Fox Environmental assesses streams on a variety of indicators, including bacteria like E.Coli, Fecal Coliform, as well as sediment and turbidity. They prepare annual reports for governing bodies that are then submitted to the Environmental Protection Division.
In 2015, Fox Environmental monitored a site on Long Swamp Creek and found no issues other than bacteria levels that were slightly elevated during one wet sampling period.
“But they were not drastically elevated at 225 mml and 350 mml in E.Coli and Fecal Coliform areas,” Fox said. “The EPD allows 200. I’ve had places that rate in the 1,000 mml levels. You’ll see those higher bacterial levels in areas with lots of cows and urban areas with dogs and overflows from old pipes or bad septic tanks.”
Fox Environmental attributes the slightly elevated rates at Long Swamp Creek to a source entering the stream through storm water runoff. Potential sources identified were nearby chicken houses and manure applied to farmland in the area.
In 2016, Pickens County worked with the state EPD to modify its long-term monitoring program to include a total of four sampling locations. Fox was contracted to monitor Scarecorn Creek, Talking Rock Creek, Long Swamp Creek and Sharp Mountain Creek. The Long Swamp and Sharp Mountain Creek sites are both located just south of the Pickens line in Cherokee County. Sites are selected based on historical data, trends, land use, sites at further points downstream and sites that have shown issues in the past.
Data collection at Scarecorn Creek and Talking Rock Creek showed them to be in “good stream health” with no issues found that could impact human and biological life. Elevated sediment levels were found during one sampling day at Long Swamp Creek during a rainy period, which is attributed to a source in the watershed, likely from a nearby timbering operation.
“When I was up in the area driving around I noticed a lot of timbering and consider that to be the biggest threat to water quality in the area,” Fox said. “People need to be sure they are implementing best timbering practices.”
The fourth site at Sharp Mountain Creek showed high bacterial levels one sampling day, which was unusually higher than other samples taken at the site over the course of the year.
“But this is why we take numerous samples, up to nine at each site, and use averages and trends,” Fox said. “You never know what could cause unusual elevated levels.”
Partnering for better water
In 2005, Pickens County partnered with six other counties and three independent water authorities to form the Lake Allatoona/Upper Etowah River (LAUE) Watershed Partnership. This partnership commissioned a three-year study of selected streams within the study area, with results used to develop recommendations for resource management across the watershed. The Lake Allatoona/Upper Etowah River Watershed Protection Plan was finalized in March 2013 and approved by the EPD.
Pickens County agreed to implement a number of best management practices to protect water resources in the future. Pickens’ Watershed Protection Plan Annual Progress Report demonstrates to the EPD that Pickens County is in compliance with all requirements of the Lake Allatoona/Upper Etowah River Watershed Protection Plan.
“The county has worked with nearby cities and counties to assess and mange water resources for the future, and they participate in regular studies,” Fox said. “This is a good reflection on Pickens because they’re committed to protecting natural resources. They don’t have a waste water treatment plant, and that’s when the state is able to come in and require more of governments, with urban areas typically having more requirements.
“Government bodies generally don’t do something when they don’t have to,” she added, “but Pickens is doing their best to track the health of their streams in a very cost-effective way.”
Fox noted that she is now working with the City of Jasper on a watershed protection plan, which has recently been drafted and is now under review by the EPD.
Importance of clean streams
Fox said good stream health is crucial not only for the health of fish and other animals living in that immediate area, but that it also impacts water downstream and contributes to general quality of life for nearby residents.
“A watershed is like a drainage basin and Pickens has several watersheds. It can go all the way to Mexico,” she said. “Clean streams mean a better quality of life in clean and natural areas. Kids have been shown to have higher IQ and lower stress. The cost of waste water treatment is lower. Bigger businesses come because it’s where employees want to stay and live and be happy. It also promotes tourism.”
Fox stresses the importance of education and outreach programs that encourage and teach people how they can care for streams in their area by not littering and reporting any possibly harmful activity. She also encourages other initiatives offered through her company and environmental groups like the Upper Etowah River Alliance, which Pickens County Planning & Development Director Richard Osborne currently serves on the board of directors.
“Pickens County staff is also glad to continue our participation with the Upper Etowah River Alliance,” Osborne said. “It’s an active multi-county nonprofit dedicated to water educational activities. I am glad to serve on the UERA Board.”
Learn more about UERA and education and outreach programs at www.etowahriver.org. Keep Pickens Beautiful also offers litter reduction and recycling education locally. Learn more about their programs at www.kpb.org.