AWW Showcases Smith Lake Citizen Achievements at 13th Annual State of the Lake Address

Bill Deutsch, Director of the Alabama Water Watch Program (AWW) kicked off the 13th Annual State of the Lake Address at the annual meeting of the Smith Lake Environmental Preservation Committee (SLEPC) at the Dodge House Restaurant in Dodge City, Alabama. About 50 locals who live in the Smith Lake Watershed attended the meeting. Bill began by reminiscing about the previous dozen trips to Smith, and going over the program agenda which included:

  1. AWW Program Update
  2.  Agency assessment of Smith Lake
  3.  Monitoring activities on Smith Lake
  4.  What’s the Plan? Watershed management planning:                    Rock Creek Watershed,  Ryan Creek Watershed

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He continued with some interesting stats on Smith Lake – did you know that it is

  1. The deepest lake in the state (max depth of 264 feet, average depth of 65 feet)
  2. Second in the state in total volume (1,390,000 acre-feet)
  3. Has the longest lake residence time in the state (it takes 435 days for water to flow through the lake).

He continued with a brief overview of AWW achievements over the past 17 years, and then showed where Smith Lake falls on a ‘gauge’ of eutrophication (or enrichment/pollution) relative to other major lakes in the state. This ‘gauge’, known as the Trophic State Index (TSI) was measured for all lakes in Alabama back in 1989, and is a valuable reference for comparing the present condition. At that time, Smith Lake was on the clean end of the scale, with a TSI value in the low 40s (or low-mesotrophic range). Bill explained that this equated to a lake with clear, clean water that has low algal productivity and a fairly deep Secchi disk visibility.

Bill then referenced ADEM’s latest water quality report, the 2008 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report (also known as the ADEM 305(b) Report to Congress). He showed that in this report, Smith was one of only four lakes in the state in the oligotrophic range (cleanest trophic state ranking) based on data collected in 2007. He then showed a TSI graph from the ADEM report which indicated that the water quality in Smith has been relatively stable over the years, and that the water quality in 2007 was about the same as that monitored in 1985 – clean and in or near the oligotrophic range.

Eric continued the program by qualifying the ADEM water quality trend on Smith Lake, which was based on monitoring by the dam. He emphasized some of the several advantages of citizen monitoring – one being the regular monthly long-term monitoring done at sloughs, embayments and tributary streams that would not be monitored if not for volunteer efforts.

Eric then showed a map of the 43 citizen monitoring groups in the Black Warrior Basin, 15 of which are currently active and submitting water monitoring data to the AWW state-wide water quality database. Eric identified the five active citizen groups currently monitoring in the Smith Lake Watershed, including SLEPC, Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy Inc. (WCSLAI), Smith Lake Civic Association (SLCA), Camp McDowell, and Cullman County Soil and Water Conservation District (CULCO). A total of 64 volunteers who have been certified in water quality monitoring have submitted water data from the Smith Lake Watershed, which is among the top three waterbodies in the state based on # of monitors! Eric gave special recognition to the new recruits, including two new Citizen Trainers – Larry Barkey of WCSLAI and John Kulbitskas of SLCA, as well as nine new AWW-certified citizen monitors.

A summation of citizen monitoring over the past 13 years totaled 1,642 records (1,484 water chemistry records, 145 bacteriological (E. coli) records, and 13 stream bioassessment records). Seven monitoring sites had greater than 5-year long records, and three sites had greater than 10-year long records. A comparison with ADEM monitoring on Smith Lake indicated that AWW volunteers had six times more data records than ADEM in the past five years (709 records compared to ADEM’s 116 records, calculated as # dates sampled multiplied by # sites sampled per date). The volunteer monitoring was also more extensive – ADEM sampled at a maximum of 11 sites on the lake, while volunteer monitors sampled at 31 sites.

Eric indicated that citizen volunteers do a lot more than monitoring, such as yearly lake clean-ups, environmental education (annual Winston County FAWN program, stream bioassessments with Wallace State students), and participation in teacher trainings in Exploring Alabama’s Living Steams curriculum, taught by AWW at Camp McDowell on Clear Creek.

Eric then presented citizen long-term trend data from four monitor sites in the Smith Lake Watershed. The first site, SLEPC site #1 on Simpson Creek at Deb and Bob Berry’s dock on the east side of the lake, produced a 13-year positive trend in dissolved oxygen (DO), which indicated that water quality has gotten better at that site, a trend that we all like to see! Eric pointed out that the Berrys have not measured poor DO (DO below the ADEM-mandated 5 ppm minimum for maintaining healthy fish populations) since 2000, a very good sign!

Eric followed with data from CULCO site #2 on Crooked Creek measured by Bob Keefe of the Cullman County Soil and Water Conservation District. Bob’s data showed repeated occurrences of low DO in Crooked Creek, particularly during the heat of the summer when DO is naturally lower (less soluble) in water. Eric showed that the worst bout of low DO occurred during the summer of 2007 during the peak of the recent drought.

He then showed two Alkalinity-Hardness trend graphs, one from CULCO site #12 on Ryan Creek (tributary on the east side of the lake) and the other from WCSLAI site #18 on the Sipsey Fork in the Sipsey Wilderness Area (tributary on the west side of the lake). Alkalinity on the east side of the lake ran ~ 25-90 milligrams per liter (mg/L), while that of the west side ran ~ 25-35 mg/L, on average about half that of the east side (primarily because of the region’s geology, see https://aww.auburn.edu/Docs/Reports-guides/WBRSmithLake2.pdf for details). In general, the lake has relatively low alkalinity which was cited in ADEM’s 2008 Report to Congress as putting Smith Lake at risk for acid effects (from runoff from mining operations). Eric said that the AWW test kit is a valuable tool for collecting baseline water quality data before a mining operation begins, as well as a tool to monitor potential detrimental effects of ongoing mining operations (manifest as low pH, low alkalinity, visual clues, and lack of fish). Eric said that the ‘canaries in the coal mine’ were the tributary streams that flow into Smith Lake, because these would manifest water quality problems much sooner than the lake would.

Eric closed with a ‘water quality snap-shot’ of the whole lake based on citizen data. He presented upper-lake, mid-lake and lower-lake (dam forebay) Secchi disk averages for the past year, which showed a gradual increase in water clarity from upper-lake sites to the dam forebay (ranging from an average of ~ 1.3 meters in the upper lake embayments to 4.0 meters down by the dam).

Mona Scruggs, an AU graduate student in Community Planning working with AWW, continued with a synopsis of recent watershed management planning activities in the Rock Creek Watershed. She said that AWW had secured a grant from ADEM to work with Rock Creek stakeholders in the development of a Rock Creek Watershed management plan, and that once a plan was developed, AWW would pursue a grant to put money on the ground to implement the plan. She explained that the Rock Creek Watershed was targeted because it contains two tributary streams, Rock and Crooked creeks, that are on ADEM’s list of impaired (or polluted; known as the 303(d) list) streams, a prerequisite for getting ADEM grant money for improving a watershed and it’s water quality. Mona encouraged all to get involved in this watershed effort to improve the water quality of Rock Creek, Crooked Creek and Smith Lake.

Bill added that there have been discussions about pursuing a watershed management plan for the Ryan Creek Watershed, since a section of Ryan is also on ADEM’s list of impaired streams. Bill closed by commending all of the volunteers who have worked to preserve and protect Smith Lake through their many efforts. Deb Berry, President of Smith Lake Environmental Preservation Committee closed with a generous gift of $500 to the Alabama Water Watch Program! We hope to continue this long-standing tradition and return next year and report once again on the growing citizen volunteer efforts that is making a difference in the Smith Lake Watershed.

 

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