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Chattahoochee Riverkeeper group holds Lake Lanier outing to teach about environmental concerns
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Chattahoochee Riverkeeper’s technical programs director Jason Ulseth tells passengers how to check oxygen and temperature at various lake levels, both of which drop with the depth. Using a PVC 1-liter horizontal water sampler, Ulseth marked decreasing levels of dissolved oxygen and temperature at just below the surface, at 10-meter and 12-meter depths. Temperature dropped from 83 degrees, to 78.8, then 69.8, respectively. Dissolved oxygen dropped from 7.7 milligrams per liter near the surface to just 3.5 mg. at 12 meters. The state standard for fish is about 4 mgs. per liter, Ulseth said. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Visitors got a close-up look at the environmental health of Lake Lanier on Saturday when the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper watchdog group offered its first Watershed Outing.

Passengers boarded a 40-foot catamaran for a staff-led guided tour of the lake by Sally Bethea, founding executive director of the Riverkeeper, and Jason Ulseth, technical programs manager. They offered a tutorial on the history of the lake, its environmental effects and the role the group plays in the watersheds throughout the region.

Visitors also were given demonstrations on how to check water temperature, dissolved oxygen levels and the clarity of water by using the Van Dorn Sampler for quality and oxygen levels and a Secchi disk for measuring clarity.

The Riverkeeper records such data at different watersheds to help its research.

“Chattahoochee Riverkeepers made a commitment to get people out in the watershed, to learn more about the rivers, the lakes, how to enjoy them safely and become advocates,” Bethea said. “We could talk to (the passengers) about our issues, and get them exciting and engaged, and I think we accomplished that.

“There’s no better way to learn about the environment than to get out in it. We’re all 60 percent water, so just from a selfish standpoint, I think people want to know more about this liquid that is essential to our well-being and our communities. We try to be a voice of fact, passion and connectivity. Connecting people to the waterway so that they can understand what some of these issues are that we face, and with information comes power and perhaps better decisions made for all of us. That’s what we’re about.”

Phillip Hodges and his wife, Cathy, have been members of the Riverkeeper for more than 10 years, and attended Saturday’s outing to learn what the group is doing next.

“I have a general interest in water quality, and a general interest what we’re (CRK) doing,” Hodges said. “(The Riverkeeper) is already a big group with a lot of impact. But, I think there’s plenty more to be done with education. ... It’s a continuous process, too. To continue educating and then, to continue cleaning up, and getting better and better.”

Passengers also learned some of the dangers that plague watersheds. Bethea said the lake faces the same challenges.

“An ongoing challenge for Lake Lanier will be keeping its water quality as good as it today, while communities in the watershed grow,” she said. “It will take (strong) local leadership and long-term planning to ensure a healthy a lake 50 and 100 years from now.”

She said the biggest challenge could be getting residents, elected officials and business leaders to find a way to share the water system equitably.

“The most important thing is realize that we’re a part of this amazing, living river system that we need to figure out how to share the river system,” she said.

Bethea gave tips on how to preserve a watershed, including rain harvesting, using a container to catch rain or under a gutter to catch water runoff. She also said a more natural landscape can help prevent water runoff from damaging and polluting a watershed, which can happen with development.

Dave Rosselle, a passenger on the outing, said he’s been involved with many different adopt-a-stream programs in Gwinnett County and has always had a passion for cleaning rivers, lakes and streams. Saturday’s outing gave him a chance to see what the Riverkeeper does.

“Very interesting. Very educational,” he said. “Learned a lot about the lake, and the history of the lake. Just a very nice program. And, I was really impressed to learn what the CRK are doing with their educational programs. Everything they’re doing is just awesome. It’s a very valuable resource for the community and area.”

He said he learned how to measure things in the water that he didn’t know before, along with the group’s youth programs.

“I think that’s the key for a lot of these conservation efforts as far as water quality and the future of water, is to educate and get the young people excited about it and interested in it,” Rosselle said. “It’s like Sally said: ‘Water doesn’t just come out of the (faucet), but there’s a source for it.’

“As we all know, and the young people need to know this, the water resource is very finite. The watershed for the lake is very small, and there’s going to be an ongoing and increasing need for the water quality issue as far as managing the water as a volume, but also the quality of the water. ... This agency, this group as volunteers, do perform a very valuable service as far as keeping an eye on things and reporting things and keeping everybody straight. You could really see the value from the things they’ve done. It’s just been an amazing effort.”

The Riverkeeper’s youth programs work with Elachee Nature Center to teach water quality and management. To learn more, visit

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