Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division is proposing water quality standards become “less stringent” at Lake Lanier, a move that doesn’t worry area lake watchdog Wilton Rooks.
“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,” said Rooks, a vice president with the Gainesville-based Lake Lanier Association.
The EPD, which falls under the state Department of Natural Resources, 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.
The move would not “result in any economic impact within the watershed,” an EPD report states.
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,” according to the EPD.
The state’s proposed increases in allowable chlorophyll-a “are not bothersome,” Rooks said. “We are well within the safety margin.”
West Point Lake near LaGrange “deals with chlorophyll-a (parts-per-billion) readings in the high teens and 20s,” said Rooks, who is also a member of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Stakeholders, an organization that deals with water-related issues throughout the basin, which includes Lanier.
“So, the fact that we occasionally exceed 10 is not a huge concern,” he said.
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, which will be considered for DNR board approval on Aug. 27, 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,” according to the DNR.
“The Federal Clean Water Act requires states to review water quality standards periodically to make sure they are scientifically appropriate, and to revise them if necessary.”
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 water body can receive and still safely meet water quality standards, according to the EPA.
Currently, the status of Lake Lanier in Flowery Branch and Browns Bridge Road is labeled as “not assessed.” Other Hall County waters that lead to Lanier, such as Flat and Mud creeks, are deemed “impaired.”
Pollution “comes from numerous sources,” such as runoff, failing septic tanks and fertilizer, as well as more direct “point” sources, such as sewer treatment plants.
Rooks said he believes area governments “have done a tremendous job in terms of upgrading and adopting the latest technologies (at plants), so I think everybody is of the general belief and conclusion that we don’t have a point source problem.”
The issue lies mainly with the “nonpoint” sources, he said.
The EPD held a public hearing on the proposed changes July 10 and accepted public comments until July 16, hearing only from the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, Booth said.
The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper is an Atlanta-based group that advocates for the Chattahoochee River, as well as its tributaries and watershed.
“We are concerned (the proposal) may include a larger than necessary margin of safety,” said Juliet Cohen, general counsel for the organization, in a July 16 letter to the EPD.
Policy allows the EPD “to round down to the nearest whole number in its sampling results, including samples taken of chlorophyll-a. As such, a sampling result that is above the criteria could be adjusted and ... show false compliance.”
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper “is concerned that these changes will result in weaker quality standards and ultimately, poorer water quality.”
The state agency also is looking at reducing the amount of chlorophyll-a allowed in samples at West Point Lake to 24 parts per billion from 27 parts per billion.