Chattahoochee Riverkeeper's mission is to advocate and secure the protection and stewardship of the Chattahoochee River, its tributaries and watershed. , CRK's Technical Programs Director Jason Ulseth was on hand to talk about the importance of testing for pollution and bacteria in streams throughout neighborhoods in Buckhead.
According to information provided by CRK, many of the streams flowing through Atlanta neighborhoods and into the Chattahoochee River are polluted with high levels of bacteria due to cracked and overflowing sewers, failing septic systems, and urban runoff.
"That is where most of your real pollution issues take place," Ulseth said.
While neighborhood streams face major pollution issues, Ulseth said that monitoring of these streams is severely lacking, which is why CRK instituted its Neighborhood Water Watch program.
"If you want to reduce water pollution in your communities, the first thing you do is start taking samples and have them analyzed," he said. "If any of this [pollution] is taking place we are going to be able to tell through these tests."
The first success story that already took place from CRK's program happened in Collier Hills, a Buckhead Neighborhood which is represented in the BCN.
Around two and a half years ago, CRK went into Collier Hills and began taking samples in a stream there. CRK quickly identified "serious problems with E. coli" bacteria, which is the the best indicator of sewage contamination and the presence of pathogens in surface water. Traces of E. Coli is what CRK's state-of-the-art, Environmental Protection Agency lab tests for.
"Through time we were actually able to track down a broken sewer line that was underground with the City of Atlanta that was dumping raw sewage that otherwise would have gone on for years."
CRK was able to fix the problem, along with the City of Atlanta, and Ulseth thinks they can be of service in other Buckhead Neighborhoods as well.
He explained that testing would normally cost $50 a sample, but because of a private foundation grant, the tests can be done for $6 each — which covers associated supply costs. If a sample is taken once a week over the course of a year, the total would add up to $300.
Samples are collected in certified sterile bags by a volunteer in the participating neighborhood and turned in to CRK for processing. While samples could be collected every other week, Ulseth said weekly testing is the key to tracking problems.
"Steams are dynamic systems. They are always changing based on random events, seasonal fluxes and different things happening in the watershed," he said. "Because of that, routine, long term tests are needed."
Ulseth called water pollution a "major threat." Combined with the difference he knows the Neighborhood Water Watch program can make, he is excited to get more Buckhead neighborhoods involved.
"It has been a very successful program and we'd like to get as many participants as we can," he said.