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Flat Creek is running cleaner

Tuesday meeting to discuss long-range cleanup plans

POSTED: April 3, 2008 5:00 a.m.
For The Times/

A group collects samples from Flat Creek during work last year to compile data for a Watershed Improvement Plan and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Ecosystem Restoration Report.

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GAINESVILLE -- Environmentalists and Gainesville officials agree that Flat Creek is a lot better than it was about 10 years ago.

"I remember one day I went up there to look ... it looked black," said Jackie Joseph, president of the Lake Lanier Association, an organization that seeks to protect the water in Lake Lanier. "It was pretty bad looking."

Since then, Joseph says the creek has been cleaned up "substantially." Brian Wiley, Gainesville's environmental monitoring services coordinator, says he, too, has seen the creek's water quality improve in the 10 years he's performed weekly and monthly tests on it.

That's not to say that there is not still plenty of room for improvement.

"We do still have problems with elevated (fecal coliform) bacteria levels in the headwaters of Flat Creek," Wiley said.

In 2004, Flat Creek, along with Balus and Mud Creek, was listed as one of the Environmental Protection Agency's "impaired waterways" for its high concentrations of fecal coliform bacteria.

Now, following a year of study, engineers will present a plan for making more improvements on the pollution-plagued Flat Creek. The $350,000 study conducted by environmental engineering firm CH2M Hill, has been paid for by the governments of Gainesville and Hall County, but is largely funded by an EPA grant.

The engineers will present their findings, and about 10 key restoration areas, at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Gainesville Civic Center. The hearing is open to the public and comments will be
accepted.

When CH2M Hill has completed the study, it will satisfy requirements for an EPD-sanctioned Watershed Improvement Plan and a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Ecosystem Restoration Report.
The study is not directly related to Flat Creek's EPA designation as an "impaired waterway," said David Dockery, Gainesville's assistant public works director.

But because Flat Creek is surrounded by development, and therefore many impervious surfaces - roads, parking lots and buildings - the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District requires that Gainesville and Hall County come up with a Watershed Improvement Plan for the "significantly impacted watershed."

"The watershed of Flat Creek developed before there were any laws governing stormwater runoff and that sort of thing," Dockery said. "So hopefully this is a way to, over time, implement some stream restoration activities that would restore Flat Creek to more of a natural situation."

The CH2M Hill engineers have identified potential restoration areas on the creek, and have outlined ways to make it a "more ecologically sound stream," Dockery said.

Numerous problem areas have been pointed out by the engineering company, but Tuesday's meeting will focus on about eight that can be the most easily restored with the most results.

The main projects will either be on city property or on the property of a private landowner that the city has worked with in the past, Wiley said.

"This meeting really will be to say ‘after all the stream miles that were walked and after the work that was done, here are the areas that would be very cost effective and be a good bang for the buck to have some work done in to be able to restore Flat Creek back to some of the ways that it should be now,'" Wiley said.

Other areas that need restoration work, but are not as feasible to fix, will be put on the back burner, Wiley said.

One of the causes of pollution and erosion in Flat Creek is stormwater runoff. Some of the proposed improvements will focus on effectively slowing stormwater runoff, Dockery said.

The area around the creek was developed before stream buffers were required, and many of the paved surfaces surrounding the creek make it easy for rain to flow straight in.

There are some stormwater detention ponds in the Flat Creek area that, if improved, could more effectively slow rain runoff into the creek and, in turn, improve the quality of the creek's water.

"They (detention ponds have) either fallen into a state of disrepair or they need to be retrofitted in such a way as to make them more effective at slowing down stormwater discharge to Flat Creek," Dockery said. "There may be some situations where stormwater detention ponds need to be constructed where there's nothing constructed there now."Improving the detention ponds can help reduce pollution and erosion problems in Flat Creek by keeping all the rainwater that falls on the paved areas from flowing into the creek all at once, Dockery said.

"The structure is built such that it releases a small amount of water over a long amount of time," Dockery said.

By holding the rainwater and allowing some of it to soak into the ground before going into the creek, the detention ponds help make runoff more like it would be in a natural, undeveloped area, mitigating the effects of flash flooding and controlling stream-bank erosion.

The study for the Watershed Improvement Plan began last spring, with engineers from CH2M Hill walking all 25 miles of Flat Creek's reach along with employees of Gainesville's public utilities environmental monitoring services.

The plan is required under the Metropolitan North Georgia Planning District, of which Gainesville is a member, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study could help Gainesville-Hall County receive federal funding to be used toward some of the future Flat Creek restoration projects.

"We're kind of making this master-plan document in such a way that it will meet both EPD requirements and corps of engineer requirements for what is essentially the same thing," Dockery said.



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