Hall County and Gainesville officials are keeping an eye on Lake Lanier's water quality.
The Hall County Board of Commissioners agreed to continue funding a study with Gainesville and Forsyth and Gwinnett counties to track physical, chemical and biological components of the lake.
As members of the Upper Chattahoochee River Basin group, the governments jointly fund the $42,000 study for North Georgia College & State University professors and students to test the lake in 11 locations.
"It tests for a number of things, but the key items that people like to know about are fecal coliform, which is bacteria, and phosphorus," said Kevin McInturff, a Hall County engineer. "People want to know if septic waste and human sewage is getting into the lake and whether fertilizers are causing algae blooms."
The NGCSU group tests nine tributaries that flow into the lake, one spot in the middle of the lake and a part of the Chattahoochee River that flows out of the lake. They also record temperature, pH, oxygen, nitrate, nitrite and phosphorus levels.
"This gives us a comprehensive look at the water quality outside of the realm of normal monitoring," said Horace Gee, Gainesville's environmental manager. "With help from students, we can get a lot of work done for a small expense."
Georgia's Environmental Protection Division now accepts the data annually and holds it on file.
"With new nutrient studies on the lake and possible limits being placed on the lake's use, this information is very valuable to us," Gee said. "In addition, some organizations give more credibility to results, sampling and testing done by an outside source."
Robert Fuller, director of the NGCSU Environmental Leadership Center and an associate professor of geosciences, heads up the annual research and is excited to get started on this year's study.
"This is an ongoing project that started in 1987, so the goal is to establish long-term trends," he said.
"Long, slow changes in water quality over time would alert us to any possible impact on the use of the lake for drinking water or recreation."
Though technology has brought on newer equipment and newer processes, Fuller teaches the students how to use traditional sampling to track data trends.
"We intentionally stick to old protocol so we can compare results from one year to the next," he said.
"We've seen some small changes over the years, but we haven't seen any major changes that worry us."
Hall County commissioners approved a five-year continuation of the study Thursday, and Gainesville City Council members will see a copy of the agreement in April. Each government pays $10,500 for the study and approves improvement programs as needed.
"In the past, the group has jointly submitted for grants to do some improvement projects, such as small water quality improvements on the Rock Creek Greenway area," McInturff said. "We've also done some improvements at detention ponds."