Chemical monitoring workshop
When: 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. June 4
Where: Braselton Police and Municipal Court Facility community room, 5040 Ga. 53, Braselton
More info: firstname.lastname@example.org or 706-654-3915
The Mulberry River might not be one of Georgia's more well-known, but its waters still impact much of the state.
And those in Braselton plan to protect that water by joining the Adopt-A-Stream community.
The river begins in southern Hall County and skirts Barrow and Jackson counties before it enters the Middle Oconee River in Jackson County. After several more twists and turns, the Middle Oconee converges with the North Oconee River before emptying into the Altamaha River and ultimately the Atlantic Ocean.
The Altamaha River watershed drains more than a quarter of the state and is one of the largest river systems in the eastern United States, according to the Altamaha Riverkeeper, a grass-roots organization dedicated to protecting the river and its tributaries, the Ocmulgee, Oconee and Ohoopee rivers.
This convoluted geography should mean a lot to those in Northeast Georgia, knowing that they live at the headwaters of a river basin traveling the length of the state, said Ben Emanuel, Oconee Project Director for the Altamaha Riverkeeper.
The headwaters of the Middle Oconee River are in Gainesville on Allen Creek and the North Oconee in North Hall near Lula.
"What we do here affects all of our neighbors downstream all the way to the coast line and those beautiful marshes in Darien and McIntosh County and neighboring counties," Emanuel said.
Yvette Wise, Braselton's environmental specialist, said she is floored that the Adopt-A-Stream program is finally making its debut.
"I've been talking about getting an Adopt-A-Stream started here for the past two years and this is the year I'm going to make it happen," she said.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division operates the program and offers several workshops that increase awareness about nonpoint source pollution and other water quality issues. It also provides people with tools to protect and monitor their local waterways.
Braselton will start its program with a free chemical monitoring workshop 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. June 4 in the community room of the Braselton Police and Municipal Court Facility.
The workshop will focus on basic stream water chemistry and how to conduct chemical tests for dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH and temperature. Part of the class will be spent outside along the Mulberry learning to use the test kits.
Wise hopes the program will educate people on how much they can impact the watershed.
"There's a lot of times that I think people don't make the connection of what they do and how that has an impact, (like) how much fertilizer you put on your lawn and herbicides, pet waste, trash and how all that ends up in our streams and rivers," she said.
There are two types of pollution, point source and nonpoint source, explained Allison Hughes, state coordinator for Adopt-A-Stream.
Point source pollutants are those that can be identified, for example, discharge from a wastewater treatment plant or carpet industry.
"All of the point sources have to have a permit to discharge and those are monitored by EPD and so we have a really good handle on the regulated point source pollutants," Hughes said.
Nonpoint source pollutants, however, are harder to regulate. In fact, 80 percent of Georgia's pollutants can be attributed to nonpoint sources, she said.
Examples include lawn fertilizers, vehicle oil leaks and animal waste, all of which might be flushed into a stream following a rainfall.
"Even though people think it might just be affecting their yard, when it rains all that junk washes downhill into a ditch or storm drain and then into the nearest water source," explained Hughes.
Braselton's entrance into Adopt-A-Stream will be a new endeavor for the town and a revival for the Jackson County area.
Hughes and Wise said they don't know of any water quality tests that have been conducted on the Mulberry River, and no other Adopt-A-Stream program currently exists in Jackson County.
Statewide, the program's popularity is growing, especially with young retirees, Hughes said. Georgia boasts 368 active sites and 178 active groups that cover 27 watersheds.
Citizen science projects such as this are an invaluable resource to ensure that regular monitoring continues for smaller rivers and streams that might not be the state's top priority, Hughes said.
Emanuel said even sampling a small segment can benefit the entire river basin.
"The idea of a riverkeeper is that you have a whole network of people out there looking out for the streams and rivers. It's not as though one person can do it," he said. "The more citizens that we have who are involved in checking on the rivers in their own neck of the woods, the better off I think we all are, so that's really exciting to me."
Clean water for all
Emanuel said many communities in Northeast Georgia rely on the Oconee River system for drinking water.
The Bear Creek Reservoir, located in Jackson County, provides drinking water for Barrow, Jackson, Clarke and Oconee counties. Though the reservoir is a dam located on Bear Creek, water is pumped into it from the Middle Oconee River.
"So, really everything in the Mulberry River system, the Middle Oconee River system is feeding the Bear Creek Reservoir and that's drinking water for four counties," he said.
With Braselton's venture into Adopt-A-Stream, Wise hopes more people will realize the important role the Mulberry River plays in their lives and how they too can play a major role in protecting it.
"It's your backyard," she said. "A lot of times I think people don't realize, they don't step back and look at the big picture and see that what they do and how it affects them and (those) downstream. We're all downstream from somebody."