Nearly a year of monitoring of multiple sites on Calls Creek in Oconee County by law students at the University of Georgia has confirmed what the Georgia Environmental Protection Division concluded based on single reading of the same creek back in 2004.
Calls Creek, at least at times and in some places, has fecal coliform readings that exceed federal standards, meaning that the stream is legally impaired.
The most likely culprits are failing septic systems and cattle.
The question now is what to do about it.
The UGA students, in a meeting tonight at the Oconee County Government Annex attended by about 20 people, proposed a series of activities.
These included continued monitoring of the stream, precise identification of the sources of the pollution, talking with the owners of the cattle and with owners of the septic systems about federal and state funding for compliance, and working with county and Watkinsville officials to determine what else can be done.
Lee Carmon, from the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, who chaired tonight’s meeting, said she will follow up on these suggestions.
Carmon opened tonight’s meeting with some background of the work of the students and then turned it over to those students to report on the findings of the monitoring.
The monitoring project has been funded by a grant to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
Students enrolled in a course directed by Laurie Fowler, associate dean, Odum School of Ecology, undertook the stream monitoring. Fowler was at tonight’s meeting.
Back in 2004, Calls Creek had a reading of 9,000 colony forming units (cfu), or more than double the 4,000 cfu standard for a fishing stream for the sampled time period.
In 2007, the state designated the 4-mile segment of the creek from where Lumpkin Branch meets Calls Creek near the county jail to the Oconee River as impaired. Calls Creek is roughly six miles long.
According to the report by the UGA students tonight, monitoring from March to the end of the summer confirmed problems with Calls Creek particularly in the area downstream from Oconee County’s Calls Creek sewage plant.
Many of the Watkinsville homes in this area are on septic, the students reported, and a small farm with cattle is nearby.
The sewage plant itself has not been identified as a source of the pollution, the student team reported.
As a result of the higher cfu levels near the plant, the students began monitoring additional sites in that area.
Again in September, October and November, the students found high levels at several sites, including those around the sewage treatment plant.
Calls Creek is particularly important because it flows through Watkinsville and other neighborhoods in the county.
Children wade in Calls Creek in many places, and particularly at Harris Shoals, a popular park in Watkinsville.
So far, the readings at Harris Shoals usually have not exceeded federal standards, according to the law students.
“There are kids and mommies playing in that creak about nine months out of the year,” former Watkinsville Mayor Jim Luken said at the meeting tonight. “It is terribly important to the local community that that is safe.”
Carmon said that concern would be incorporated into the future program.
“I would like to see us build some partnerships in the community so that the community will long-term take on this monitoring,” she added.