The Georgia Department of Natural Resources’ board of directors is set to vote Tuesday on loosened water quality standards for Lake Lanier.
The state Environmental Protection Division, which falls under the DNR, is looking to increase the amount of chlorophyll-a allowed in samples to 6 parts per billion from 5 parts per billion at its Flowery Branch testing site and 7 parts per billion from 5 parts per billion at its Browns Bridge Road site.
Chlorophyll-a concentrations indicate the amount of algae in water.
“Algae are an important food source for aquatic life, but excessive phosphorus entering a lake can cause algae growth and lead to environmental problems such as fish kills, lowered water clarity and the potential for toxic algae blooms,” the EPD has stated.
The standards change “is based on some updated modeling results that indicated the original standards that were adopted cannot be met,” said Elizabeth Booth, manager of EPD’s Watershed Planning and Monitoring Program. “They were too tight when they (were) established in 2000. We cannot obtain them.”
The EPD is proposing the change, set to be discussed Monday by the DNR board’s Environmental Protection Committee and voted by the full board Tuesday, to “remain in compliance” with the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “methodology and guidance as it pertains to Georgia’s water quality control program.”
The Federal Clean Water Act requires states to review water quality standards periodically to make sure they are scientifically appropriate, and to revise them as needed.
Under federal law, states are required to develop lists of impaired waters. As part of that effort, they must develop “total maximum daily loads,” a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a body of water can receive and still safely meet water quality standards, according to the EPA.
The status of Lake Lanier in Flowery Branch and Browns Bridge Road has been labeled as “not assessed.” Other Hall County waters that lead to Lanier, such as Flat and Mud creeks, are deemed “impaired.”
Pollution is caused by numerous sources, such as runoff, failing septic tanks and fertilizer, as well as more direct “point” sources, such as sewer treatment plants.
So far, the Lanier water quality issue isn’t causing any real concern among lake watchers and environmentalists.
Joanna Cloud, executive director of the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association, said the group’s board has discussed the issue.
“I believe the general consensus is that this does not have much impact on Lanier,” she said last week.
Wilton Rooks, an LLA member who tracks issues affecting the lake, has said, “As the lake has matured over the years and land uses have changed, you need a different yardstick to say what reflects a reasonable standard today.”
The state’s proposed increases “are not bothersome,” said Rooks, also a member of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders, an organization that focuses on water-related issues throughout the basin, which includes Lanier.
“We are well within the safety margin.”
Juliet Cohen, general counsel for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said, “While we’re not supportive, necessarily, of weakening the standards, our biggest concern is how EPD is going to work with the local governments and how they all are going to contribute to having a long-term plan for reducing the nutrient load into the lake system.”
The EPA has stated that “excess nitrogen and phosphorus, or nutrient pollution, is the primary cause of water quality impairment ... and causes algae blooms.”
Jason Ulseth, technical programs manager for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, said Georgia’s rainy weather season has had an environmental impact.
“What we have seen is a 30 to 60 percent increase in chlorophyll-a ... so far through the summer,” he said. “More rain equals more nutrients.”