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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Alabama: Conserving Alabama's Lakes and Rivers - The Sand Mountain/Lake Guntersville Watershed Project


The Sand Mountain/Lake Guntersville Watershed Project, one of the first major nonpoint source projects in the southeastern United States, encompasses four hydrologic units that drain to Guntersville Reservoir, a mainstem reservoir on the Tennessee River in northeastern Alabama. The 400,800-acre watershed has a predominantly rural landscape; it is characterized by small towns and farms (45 to 50 acres). The local economy is driven by agriculture and agribusiness, and is strongly influenced by poultry and livestock production.

Water quality problems in the watershed, first noted in the 1979 State Agricultural Runoff Management Plan, were underscored in 1981, when Town Creek, one of the area's principal streams, was rated as a critical watershed: having a high potential for pollution. In 1985, the entire watershed, consisting of the Town, Short, Scarham, and South Sauty Creeks, was designated a top priority watershed.

In response, the Soil Conservation Service, now the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and local soil and water conservation districts developed a water quality plan. This plan outlined the sources and nature of water quality impairments in the watershed and suggested some remedies. Nutrients, bacteria, and sediment were among the primary problems, and they had diffuse and multiple sources: for example, animal waste disposal, on-site sewage disposal, dead animal disposal, household wastewater, and cropland runoff.

A large number of federal, state, and local agencies helped the NRCS put the water quality plan into action. Best management practices were recommended, and technical and financial assistance encouraged many landowners to use best management practices as part of their routine. A large-scale cooperative effort had begun.

Fishery is improving

The Sand Mountain/Lake Guntersville Watershed Conservancy District was established in 1989 and a project coordinator position was created to better manage the project. Funding for BMP demonstrations and water quality monitoring was provided to this new entity through section 319. However, the installation of best management practices continued to be cost-shared between landowners and various agencies or programs, such as Agricultural Conservation Program, Water Quality Special Projects, and Hydrologic Unit Area.

Pollutant loadings have decreased in the project area as a result of these cooperative and ongoing programs.

Significant changes in the status of water quality have been observed in the project area as a result of these cooperative and ongoing programs: fewer violations of annual in-stream water quality standards, a more balanced pH, and reduced nitrogen inputs. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management receives fewer complaints, the fishery is improving in at least one of the major streams in the watershed, and pollutant loadings have fallen as a result of better animal waste management and nutrient management planning. An annual volunteer monitoring contest for high school students in the watershed has increased involvement and awareness in water quality. More important, the cooperation fostered by and coordinated through the Conservancy District has improved relationships among the participants.

The Conservancy District is currently planning for sustainability and future growth. As the project progresses, new stakeholders become involved and additional problems are brought forward for solution. The ultimate goal is to provide for ongoing community involvement in the project area.

CONTACT: Steve Foster
Alabama Department of Environmental Management
334 213-4309

Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring -
The Alabama Water Watch

Scores of citizen groups interested in the conservation of lakes and streams have sprung up in Alabama in recent years. Such groups include lakefront home owner/boat owner associations, environmental clubs of high schools and universities, canoe or kayak clubs, and other statewide and national environmental organizations. Their motives range from pride and concern for a local resource to anger over unchecked pollution. The Alabama Water Watch Program (AWW), a statewide coalition of monitoring groups incorporated in 1995 to train and coordinate active monitoring groups in various Alabama watersheds, exemplifies this public interest.

Dedicated to developing citizen volunteer monitoring of Alabama's lakes, streams, and wetlands, AWW is funded, in part, by a Clean Water Act section 319 grant from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. It is coordinated through the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures of Auburn University. The goals of the Alabama Water Watch Program are to

  • educate citizens about water issues in Alabama and the world,
  • train volunteers to measure the condition of water at sites of concern, and
  • improve environmental policy by challenging citizens to actively participate in identifying long-term water quality trends and specific problems that need immediate attention.

AWW helps its members become "globally aware and locally active" in aquatic resource management. AWW is also a grassroots program; each participating citizen group has the privilege and responsibility to plan its own agenda and use of data. Finally, AWW is holistic in its approach. Water, AWW's adherents say, is the "grand integrator" of all that occurs within a watershed, and citizens need to be involved in the ecological, sociocultural, and political aspects of land and water use.

Training citizen monitors

AWW conducts basic certification workshops in which citizens are trained to monitor and evaluate physical, chemical, and biological water quality indicators. Six water quality parameters form the core of water quality data: water temperature, pH, total alkalinity, total hardness, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. The training workshop shows each monitor how to use a customized kit to collect the chemical data.

BIO-ASSESS, an environmental game developed at Auburn University, helps the trainees prepare to do biological assessments. They also learn through field collection and evaluations of stream macroinvertebrate communities. About 30 to 50 percent of the workshop time (each workshop is six hours) is spent in the field so that the monitors can begin with hands-on monitoring experience. Then, each participant selects one or more sampling sites near home. The sites should be convenient, accessible (physically and legally), and safe.

The most important aspect of a citizen monitoring program is to protect the credibility of the data through an effective Quality Assurance (QA) Program. EPA and Alabama's Department of Environmental Management approved a Quality Assurance/Quality Control manual for statewide citizen volunteer water quality data in September 1994. One of the first citizen-based QA protocols in the United States, this manual addresses 16 elements of data collection and processing. It has also been used as a tool for the annual recertification of monitors and in the development of the test kits. A full-time quality officer coordinates the database and all QA protocols.

The potential for AWW citizen groups to create an integrated and in-depth database on water quality greatly exceeds that of government agencies and universities.

By December 1995, about 950 people had attended basic certification workshops to become water quality monitors. About 160 water quality test kits were distributed and several others had been purchased by citizen groups or other organizations. Since the program started in 1993, 52 citizen groups have participated in the Alabama Water Watch, and 41 groups have sent in data within the last six months. About 35 percent of these groups are teachers and students.

Over 180 sites on nearly 100 waterbodies have been monitored. More than 1,500 data forms have been received from the 10 major watersheds in Alabama. Even more important, all data have been entered into a computer database. The data are then summarized, graphed, interpreted, and presented to the monitors, policy makers, and other interested citizens through two avenues: the semiannual Alabama Water Watch newsletter (published by Troy State University with funds from the EPA and the state) and a bimonthly Water Quality Bulletin (published by Auburn University).

Ongoing activities, increasing benefits

AWW monitoring groups are most active in the northeast quadrant of the state, especially in the Coosa, Tennessee, and Tallapoosa watersheds. One of the largest groups in AWW is the Coosa River Basin Initiative. Based in Georgia, with monitors in both states, this group exemplifies an important organizing principle: AWW monitors are oriented to watersheds, not political boundaries. Ongoing activities will help fortify the program in the western and central parts of the state. For example, the citizen group at Weeks Bay (in the Mobile watershed) has recently become very active.

A series of Training the Trainers workshops began in March 1995 that added four to six citizen trainers to Alabama's statewide roster. An Alabama Water Watch Teacher Coordinator joined the staff of Troy State University in June 1995, and a volunteer Monitor Coordinator joined the Alabama Water Watch at Auburn University in January 1996. In addition to financial support from section 319 and state funding, the program has received two grants from Legacy, Inc., to help pay for the annual replacement of chemical reagents in all water quality test kits and similar program needs. More important, citizen monitors have accrued thousands of hours in workshops and field sampling, which AWW can use as a valuable component in grant proposals for cost-share funding.

The Water Watch program acknowledges its debt to previous and ongoing citizen monitoring projects around the country. It also benefits a variety of programs by sharing its concepts and methodologies with other states and countries. Indeed, the approach and resources of AWW have been implemented or presented for possible implementation in the Philippines, Ecuador, and Vietnam. International visitors from several countries have visited AWW groups on two occasions to exchange ideas regarding citizen monitoring. Such exchanges have kept a true "global to local" focus within the AWW program.

The potential for AWW citizen groups to create an integrated and in-depth database on water quality greatly exceeds that of government agencies and universities. Citizens can reach a greater number of sites, visit or staff more trend stations, and sample with greater frequency and responsiveness to special sampling needs (e.g., pollution spills or storm events). A large pool of citizen data serves as a first alert to water quality problems and troubled waterbodies that need state resources. To that end, the Department of Environmental Management supports and applauds the formation of a Citizen Advisory Council composed of AWW monitors and citizen leaders. The Council meets quarterly with the department to discuss pertinent water issues and ways of collaboration.

CONTACT: William G. Deutsch
Alabama Water Watch Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquaculture Auburn University
(334) 844-9119


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