Smith Lake residents embrace watershed management

The seeds of watershed planning have been sown over the past several years in the Smith Lake Watershed at the annual ‘State of the Lake Address’ sponsored by Smith Lake Environmental Preservation Committee, or SLEPC. Alabama Water Watch (AWW) staff annually evaluate volunteer monitor data collected by the five active monitoring groups in the Smith Lake Watershed and look at long-term trends in the data to see if the water quality in sections of the lake is getting better or worse. The five water monitoring groups include SLEPC (on Ryan Creek), Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy Inc., or WCSLAI (on Crooked, Rock, Brushy and Sipsey Fork), Camp McDowell (on Clear Creek), Smith Lake Civic Association, or SLCA (on the lower lake), and Cullman County Soil and Water Conservation District, or CULCO (on streams throughout Cullman County).

AWW has trained and certified 64 citizen monitors in Water Chemistry and/or Bacteriological Monitoring in the Smith Lake Watershed. They monitor over 60 sites on the lake and its tributary streams, and have contributed over 1,700 water quality records to AWWs statewide database (for more information, see http://blog.auburn.edu/aww/?p=67).

Along with evaluation of lake conditions, AWW encourages citizen monitors to put their data to work. The Alabama Department of Environmental Management, or ADEM, provides funding through their Nonpoint Source 319 Grant program to implement on-the-ground improvements, primarily targeting impaired streams. Citizen monitors of the Rock Creek Watershed became interested in going beyond monitoring, and partnered with AWW in pursuing an ADEM grant to develop a watershed management plan for the Rock Creek Watershed. The Rock Creek Watershed is one of several around the state that has stream sections that have been deemed impaired (polluted) by ADEM, and is therefore a prime candidate for a 319 grant to improve the landscape and clean up the creek.

Mona Scruggs discusses watershed management with Rock Creek stakeholders

AWW personnel began meeting with various stakeholder groups in Winston and Cullman counties in the summer of 2009. Several meetings with key stakeholders (municipal leaders, resource managers, county officials, local residents, to name a few) were arranged by the president of WCSLAI, LaVerne Matheson. LaVerne was keenly interested in educating children in the local schools about environmental issues and the value of protecting our natural resources. Many others residents have become involved with the watershed management planning process through meetings and expanding water monitoring efforts.

Tim Scott, Bob Keefe and Wade Hill lead a tour of the Rock Creek Watershed

Watershed-level bacteria monitoring was initiated earlier this year on a brisk February day. This type of monitoring is being initiated in other watersheds around Alabama, such as Lake Wedowee (see http://blog.auburn.edu/aww/?p=54), and the Saugahatchee Watershed (see http://sites.google.com/site/saveoursaugahatchee/  and click Activities). In the Rock Creek Watershed and greater Smith Lake Watershed, the bacteriological training and monitoring supplies are provided by an EPA-funded project, the Global Water Watch-Gulf of Mexico Alliance, or GWW-GOMA. This ‘blitz’ sampling gives a valuable snapshot of water quality of the whole watershed. The February Blitz of Rock Creek Watershed was accomplished through the assistance of 24 certified volunteer monitors who monitored 43 sample sites on Smith Lake and its tributaries. Results indicated unsafe levels of E. coli bacteria at four sampling locations (see map below for details, note that the Rock Creek Watershed is outlined in red). To date, this is the most comprehensive snapshot of the watershed health, relative to bacterial contamination, of the Smith Lake Watershed!

Locations of high bacteria sampled in February 2010 – click map for larger image

A second bacteriological monitoring blitz was conducted in April 2010, and 22 monitors from four water watch groups sampled at most of the February Blitz sites. Surprisingly, even though the weather and water temperatures were significantly higher than those of blitz #1 (no sleet/snow this time around), unsafe levels of E. coli were found at only one sampling location.

These results highlight 1) the hit-and-miss nature of water quality testing, particularly for contamination linked with rainfall-runoff events; and 2) the need for repeated sampling throughout the year. Repeated watershed-level sampling will be extremely valuable in evaluating the watershed and prioritizing resources for implementing best management practices – a major goal of the watershed management plan.

Citizen volunteers become certified in bacteriological monitoring at an AWW workshop

The GWW-GOMA project will fund seasonal bacteriological blitz sampling for two years. The data and information collected from this sampling will be of great value in focusing stakeholder watershed protection activities where they are most needed to reduce pollutants flushing into the lake.

Sampling Crooked Creek for bacteria

Volunteer monitoring has provided a solid foundation for citizen involvement in the watershed management planning process. Citizens who become trained in water monitoring also become knowledgeable in watershed processes and water issues. As Winston County Extension Agent, Mike Henshaw put it, it has been a “learning by doing” experience. They also become empowered and encouraged to be a part of watershed management in their local watershed. Participation from residents, members of citizen groups, municipal government officials, county government officials, resource management agencies (Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, National Forest Service) in the development of the Rock Creek Watershed Management Plan over the past several months is laying the foundation for long-term, sustainable resource management in the watershed. Good job, Rock Creek Stakeholders!

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