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Student, professor examine Lanier, Flat Creek for water quality

Creek shows pollution; Buford Dam clean

POSTED: July 28, 2014 12:48 a.m.
/Courtesy Melba Horton

Chad Subers, a biology student at the University of North Georgia, takes algae samples near Boling Bridge in Hall County.

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Particularly drawn to Flat Creek, Melba Horton spent the early part of the summer checking the water quality at Lake Lanier.

The University of North Georgia biology instructor worked with one of her top students, Chad Subers, exploring algal diversity around Flat Creek and Buford Dam as part of UNG’S Faculty-Undergraduate Summer Enrichment program.

They found that Flat Creek, a 6-mile waterway that winds through Gainesville and West Hall County before reaching Lanier, was "moderately" polluted and Buford Dam was "clean."

Horton, who moved into the Hall County area in 2010, was already familiar with Lanier’s challenges, having completed a water quality project with Robert Fuller, physics professor and director of UNG’s Environmental Leadership Center.

Readings in the study made Flat Creek "the most interesting of the 11 tributaries (studied)," Horton said.

The FUSE program caught her attention, as she has a long-held interest in water quality and wanted to get involved in research.

In earning her doctorate from Michigan Technological University, she "was looking at how changes in the environment affect algae and vice versa, and the behavior of algae when they get affected by changing water quality," Horton said.

She later taught at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La., and was leaving for the Hall area when the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico took place.

"The university was trying to take part in that, but I was getting out and I was the only diatoms algae person there," Horton said. "So, that was kind of bad."

Horton pitched her FUSE proposal, called "Inventory of Algal Diversity in Lake Lanier, Georgia," and approached Subers to see if he was interested in participating.
Subers, who couldn’t be reached for comment, said he would, and the work began.

In a UNG publication, Horton talked about the importance of the effort.

"Algal diversity is a key to ecosystem stability," Horton said. "I am interested in understanding the condition of Lake Lanier as it is a water source for Georgia, Alabama and Florida."

Those three states have battled for two decades over the water resource.

The project had three objectives:

Determine algal diversity and water quality in different tributaries of Lake Lanier.

See if there is a correlation between algal diversity and the parameters of water quality.

Use the algal diversity index to indirectly determine Lake Lanier’s order of pollution.

Chattahoochee Riverkeepers, an Atlanta-based environmental watchdog group, also does water quality testing annually, looking particularly at chlorophyll-a, which indicates the level of potentially harmful algae growth. The testing runs April through October.

Last year’s results showed that, except for an area off the Ga. 53/Dawsonville Highway bridge in Gainesville over the Chattahoochee River, Lake Lanier met water quality standards.

Flat Creek’s health has long been a concern for Gainesville, which is gearing up to start the first phase of a multiyear, million-dollar-plus project to help with flood protection and restore water quality to a stream leading to the creek.

The effort has drawn praise from lake and environmental advocacy groups.

"Flat Creek has long failed to meet Georgia’s water quality standards for fecal coliform bacteria, and stormwater is a major pollutant delivery mechanism for bacteria and other potentially harmful substances," said Duncan Hughes, headwaters outreach coordinator with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

Horton’s project has only whetted her appetite.

"I’m getting more excited," she said. "I really want to do long-term monitoring."

Results at Flat Creek, after all, "was a one-shot deal," Horton said.

And they vary month to month, especially in an ever-flowing creek.

"Water quality can easily change," Horton said.

 



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