Lake Watch of Lake Martin impacts statewide water policy

Lake Watch of Lake Martin (LWLM) members have been vigilantly watching over the waters of Lake Martin for nearly two decades. Under the leadership of LWLM President, Dick Bronson, the group has monitored lake water quality; conducted lake clean-ups; collaborated with Auburn University, Alabama Power Company, and state agencies in conducting scientific studies(1) of the lake; and educated countless children and adults on watershed stewardship and how each stakeholder can make a difference in keeping the lake clean.

Since LWLM began water testing in mid-1993, AWW-certified LWLM volunteer monitors have submitted nearly 1,600 water quality records (water chemistry and bacteriological records) from 32 monitoring sites to AWW’s statewide water quality database(2).

LWLM monitoring sites on the lake, the Tallapoosa River and tributary streams

Recognizing the high quality of Lake Martin’s waters, and that it is one of the cleanest lakes in the state (3) , Dick began building a case for upgrading the lake’s official Use Classification(4). An upgrade to Outstanding Alabama Water (OAW, achieved for part of Wolf Bay by the Wolf Bay Watershed Watch group(5)), would establish stricter water quality standards for the lake, and ultimately provide stricter limits on the amount of pollutants allowed into the lake.

Armed with nearly two decades of dedicated watershed stewardship and 14 years of AWW-certified citizen water quality data, LWLM submitted a formal request to ADEM for OAW classification for the lake in 2006.  However, the request was not approved because the rules for the OAW classification simply didn’t fit a man-made reservoir like Lake Martin – they were written for natural bays and free-flowing rivers and streams.

Through collaboration with ADEM and the Governor’s Office, the idea of creating a new designation for man-made reservoirs emerged. Dick got the call to attend a public ceremony at Children’s Harbor on the beautiful Kowaliga Arm of the lake on December 28th, 2010. Governor Riley made a special appearance to announce the new water designation for the State of Alabama – Treasured Alabama Lake (TAL).

Governor Riley signs Executive Order 52 establishing the TAL designation for lakes

This designation applies to any reservoir in Alabama that meets the criteria established for TAL, as Martin does. He also announced that Lake Martin would be the first lake in the state to earn TAL status. Details are still being developed for the official TAL designation, but as Governor Riley put it  “what does it (TAL) do ultimately…it says that no matter what happens over the next generation, the water here (in Lake Martin) will never be degraded from what it is today.”

LWLM President Dick Bronson presents Gov. Riley with a LWLM t-shirt

Listen to LWLM President Dick Bronson’s Speach

Watch the Alexander City Outlook video

              Watch the CBS Channel 8 News report             

Read more about the event in the Dadeville Record

Many thanks go to the leadership of Governor Riley, and Mr. Lance Lefleur, Director of ADEM, and particularly to the tireless efforts of LWLM volunteers and their tenacious leader, Dick Bronson – job well done!!

(1)See the following links for more information on LWLM collaboration with scientific studies: Tallapoosa Watershed Project, Alabama Power Lake Study, Sandy Creek Watershed Study).

(2)To access the AWW statewide online database, go to, and click the AWW Data menu).

(3)According to ADEM water quality trend data, see the 2010 INTEGRATED WATER QUALITY MONITORING AND ASSESSMENT REPORT Water Quality in Alabama).

(4)See the Alabama Clean Water Partnership brochure for information on ADEM Use Classifications).

(5)For more information on OAW classification for Wolf Bay see Outstanding Alabama Water (OAW)).


Share your watershed successes and inspire others

Being a part of Alabama Water Watch (AWW), whether you are a monitor, a member of the AWW Association (AWWA), you work in the AWW office, or all of the above, means being part of a community that is dedicated to the same goal: protecting and restoring water quality in Alabama.  As a community we should celebrate our successes, support each other in difficult situations, and learn from each others’ experiences.  In an effort to encourage this type of a community for AWW we would like to publicize more stories about the individuals and groups that make up AWW.  We want to show how monitors are using their data and how groups are working together with their communities to protect their water resources.  

Thanks to the data collected by citizen volunteers throughout the state, AWW is making a real difference in Alabama’s water quality.  Many citizen volunteers monitor water quality at sites on streams, rivers, lakes, bays, or bayous faithfully every month for years. Some discover water quality problems, many do not.  Whether or not a monitor unearths a water quality “smoking gun”, all water data collected by AWW-certified monitors are valuable.  This is emphasized each time AWW staff analyze citizen and agency (ADEM, AU, USGS, etc. data in preparation for a “data interpretation” presentation for an AWW Group.  In these presentations, group efforts are highlighted, water quality data trends are summarized, watershed-level assessments are presented, and land-use relationships relative to water quality are examined. 

Data interpretation at Pell City with the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association, February 2006

Methods of assessing water quality problems vary.  One way is to compare measurements to water quality standards set by EPA or by the state.  Another way is to compare measurements to the water quality of another “reference” site that is considered “relatively pristine” or unimpacted.  Thus it is valuable to have water quality measurements from waterbodies lying in the different geologic/soil regions of the state to provide reference water quality conditions for evaluating impacts.  Also, several incidents of leaks or spills (sewage leaks, release of chlorinated swimming pool water, etc.) have been “caught “by regular monthly monitoring by citizen volunteer monitors.

AWW monitoring sites (red dots)in the Geographic Regions of Alabama (click to enlarge)*

Monitors have used their data to bring about positive changes in their watersheds for many years.  Each “Success Story” is unique and offers many lessons for other water quality monitors.  By hearing these real life stories of taking data to action, it is hopeful that the water monitors throughout the state will be encouraged to strengthen monitoring efforts and be inspired to think creatively when faced with difficult water quality issues. AWW would like to highlight your group’s success stories and put them on our statewide “Map of Success”.  We would also like to share helpful tips that you may have for water monitoring and making a difference in your community with other AWW groups.  If you have a success story or helpful suggestion to share, you can contact the AWW office by phone or email.   (for contact info, CLICK HERE). These stories can be about your personal experience, that of your group or another monitor.  

We are pleased to feature a recent AWW group, the Town of Magnolia Springs water watchers (TOMS), success story – a story of committed volunteer monitors working collaboratively with local officials to solve a water quality problem in the Magnolia River (to read more, CLICK HERE) – Go TOMS!

We look forward to hearing from you about your success story!

*Special THANKS to the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service’s Alabama Water Information System – Geo-Spatial (Geographic Information System) Data group for assistance in compilation of the state-wide map! To check out the tremendous GIS resource they have created, CLICK HERE.

Volunteer monitor success story: Magnolia Springs

To begin our “AWW Success Stories” series, let’s go down to Alabama’s beautiful coastal region and introduce you to the Town of Magnolia Springs (TOMS) monitoring group.   Local citizens began monitoring the Magnolia River around 1996, but significantly stepped up efforts in 2005, with one major goal: to get the Magnolia River upgraded to Outstanding Alabama Water (OAW) status.   TOMS realized that the Magnolia River was an exceptional waterbody, and they decided to do everything possible to make sure that it would stay this way for generations to follow.  Their pursuit of OAW status was a significant step in the right direction. 

TOMS secures OAW status from ADEM for the Magnolia River

from left to right, Ken Underwood, Charlie Houser, Brett Gaar, Richard Odess (all TOMS water watchers); and ADEM officials, Stan Shirley (Environmental Engineer) and Lynn Sisk (Chief, Water Quality Division)

In Alabama there are eight classifications of water use.  Outstanding Alabama Water is the second highest of all the classifications, second only to the Outstanding National Resource Waters, and according to ADEM the “best usage of water assigned this classification are those activities consistent with the natural characteristics of the waters”.    In order for a body of water to receive this classification, it must exhibit a high quality.  The OAW status is rarely granted, and the characteristics that constitute a high quality are very specific and must be documented scientifically.  Clearly not all citizens of Magnolia Springs are scientists, but their certification in the AWW water quality monitoring program, which is approved by both ADEM and the EPA, made it was possible for locals to provide the data necessary to show that the Magnolia River was deserving of the OAW status.   According to TOMS monitor Rick Odess, the contribution from the AWW program that helped the most in this process was that “AWW provided the infrastructure and made it easy for TOMS to get their data to ADEM. AWW acts as a conduit between us and ADEM.”  Not only does OAW status draw deserved attention to the environmentally sound initiatives of Magnolia Springs, including regular water monitoring and strict water quality regulations put in place by the town, it also makes the regulations for potential polluters stricter (to learn more about the OAW  classification, CLICK HERE).

Click Here for mor pics

Although the TOMS group began their testing efforts with the intention of achieving the OAW status, after becoming familiar with the benefits of regular citizen water monitoring, the group has chosen to continue monitoring. The events that have taken place during the past several months in Magnolia Springs have reaffirmed the importance of water monitoring for the community.   Monitors conduct regular AWW tests in the Magnolia River Watershed for chemistry parameters as well as bacteria, including E. coli.   In two years of testing for E. coli in the Magnolia River, the results never exceeded the safety limit set by ADEM for human contact, which is 600 E. coli per 100 mL of water.  However, in January 2010, while the community was beginning to celebrate the recent achievement of OAW status for the River, an AWW monitor near the headwaters of the Magnolia River found extremely high counts of E. coli at his regular testing site.   The community was not sure what to make of the result considering it was so out of the ordinary. 

In March, the Mobile Register published a front page article detailing the problems experienced by a private sewer treatment company in Foley which has a lift station very close to the Magnolia River headwaters.  Heavy rains in January caused problems with the sewer system.  As a response, the company made the decision to discharge raw sewage into the stormwater retention pond of a nearby subdivision.  Community members complained of bad odors in the area which led to the investigation that uncovered the sewage problem.  Because of the proximity of the retention pond to the Magnolia River headwaters, and the heavy rains, it is likely that contaminated water flooded into the Magnolia River, and  that the high E. coli counts discovered by the AWW monitor were connected to this event.  The proactive community of Magnolia Springs did not hesitate to contact the necessary officials, including ADEM. As a result a “cease and desist” order was made by ADEM in March 2010. The sewer company was required to immediately stop all discharges into the retention pond and do a thorough sanitation of the pond to prevent further contamination of the area.  

This event is a vivid reminder to the community of Magnolia Springs, and to other members of the AWW community, that the work of protecting water quality is never finished.   Although a stream or river has been historically healthy, it is important to continue monitoring because you never know when something could go wrong upstream. Long- term data makes it easier to determine when a problem began and what the likely cause is.   Thanks to proactive citizens, the environmental damage of this particular incidence was kept to a minimum. However, there is no guarantee that something similar will not happen again to Magnolia River, and it is likely that other rivers and streams throughout Alabama are being contaminated without detection.  In general, the people who care most about the water quality of a local water body are the people who live near it, play in it, and drink it.  When citizens are equipped with the knowledge and skills to monitor and understand water quality they have the ability to make positive changes.  It is good to be reminded of this fact and to believe in the power of collective action.  It is clear that the monitors in Magnolia Springs believe this and we can all learn a lot from their actions.

To hear more about Magnolia Springs and their efforts to protect the
Magnolia River, check out the interview with Magnolia Springs leaders near
the end of the updated Living Downstream Video (Click Here for the video).

AU Forestry and AWW team up to assess streams

The AU Urban Ecology class (FORY 4970/7970), taught by Dr. Chris Anderson, met with Eric Reutebuch and Sergio Ruiz-Cordova in September to learn about Alabama Water Watch(AWW) and to examine two local streams using the AWW Stream Biomonitoring protocol. The class sampled Saugahatchee Creek (at Lee County Road 65 Bridge) first, then sampled Parkerson Mill Creek (at Sandhill Road).

Photos of stream sampling

The students utilized small seines and kicknets to collect macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects, snails, crayfish and clams) to assess the ‘health’ of the two streams. The AWW stream bioassessment protocol is based on the collection of a stream’s macroinvertebrate community and examining the species diversity and abundance of the community. The aquatic critters are identified and placed into three groups, Group I are the most sensitive to pollution and physical disturbance, Group II are moderately sensitive, and Group III are tolerant to pollution.

At the Saugahatchee, the students found a fairly diverse group of stream critters, including snails, mayfly nymphs, stonefly nymphs, caddis fly larvae, riffle beetles, damselfly nymphs, hellgrammites, clams, midges and a leech, for a total of 11 different aquatic species. From their collections, they then calculated a stream quality assessment score to rate Saugahatchee Creek, which yielded a value of 25, equivalent to a rating of ‘Excellent.’ In other words, given that the headwaters of the Saugahatchee are urbanized and receive some pollutants from urban point and nonpoint sources (Opelika-Auburn municipal treatment effluents, chemicals and pet waste from lawns, motor oil from driveways and parking lots, etc.), the stream at Lee CR 65 Bridge supports a diverse community of aquatic organisms, and is in relatively good shape. An important caveat to these findings is that the AWW Biomonitoring protocol yields a ‘conservative’ estimate of stream health, meaning that it tends to overestimate stream health (conversely, it tends to underestimate negative impacts to stream health).

Stream assessment results – Saugahatchee #1

Stream assessment results – Saugahatchee #1

Stream assessment results – Parkerson Mill

At the second stream, Parkerson Mill Creek at Sandhill Road (just south of Auburn) the students again found a fairly diverse group of stream critters, including snails, mayfly nymphs, caddis fly larvae, water pennies, dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, hellgrammites, midges, aquatic worms and a leech, a total of 12 different aquatic species. From their collections, they calculated a stream quality assessment score of 24 for Parkerson Mill Creek, which also yielded a rating of ‘Excellent.’ Parkerson Mill was recently placed on ADEMs 303(d) list of impaired streams for pathogen contamination (primarily E. coli bacteria). It appears from these data that the aquatic macroinvertebrate community is relatively unimpacted and in fairly good shape.

The students appeared to enjoy their stream bioassessment experience, and gathered some informative data in the process!

AWW co-sponsors rainwater harvest workshop

AWW joined with the City of Auburn, the Auburn University Water Resources Center, and Natures Tap in sponsoring an Introduction to Rainwater Harvesting Workshop (ARCSA 100-level course). Tia Gonzales, the leader of last year’s Community Rain Barrel Workshops (sponsored by the Saugahatchee Watershed Management Plan) organized the ARCSA workshop.

ARCSA 100-level course agenda

O-A News article on the workshop

ARCSA, the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1994 to promote rainwater catchment systems in the United States. ARCSA’s mission is to promote sustainable rainwater-harvesting practices to help solve potable, non-potable, stormwater and energy challenges throughout the world. ARCSA encourages all rainwater harvesting enthusiasts to learn about rainwater harvest and join the ARCSA organization (see for more information).

Pictures of Historical Society’s Rainwater Harvest System

 The 100-level workshop was held in Loachapoka, AL at the Lee County Historical Society. Thirty-two people participated, from as far away as Pennsylvania and Texas! Historical Society volunteers provided delicious snacks and beverages. Participants learned the basics of rainwater harvest from ARCSA instructor, Tim Pope, and were shown numerous systems, large and small, that have been installed around the country. Tim emphasized that rainwater harvest can be, and is for many, a viable sole-source of water for a household or a business, especially in Alabama where we get relatively abundant rainfall spread throughout the year (about 52 inches annually, on average). Some valuable rainwater harvest tidbits that I learned at the workshop are:

  • One square foot of rooftop yields 0.6 gallons of water from a 1” rain,
  • A 2000 square foot home can harvest about 63,156 gallons of rainwater per year from the roof,
  • Black rain tanks are best because they don’t allow light inside and therefore prevent algae growth inside the tank,
  • If one desires to use rainwater for potable use, there are several ways to sterilize the water, including chlorination, ultraviolet light treatment, ozone treatment and reverse osmosis. Some are more effective than others.

It is encouraging to see an increasing number of rainwater harvest systems in the Auburn/Opelika area. Go take a look at some of these examples and be inspired:

SWaMP helps with 3 Rs of Cary Woods Elementary Environmental Ed Project

Rooftop rain catchment tour

Alternative sources of water plus pollution reduction – A Win-Win!

SWaMP supports Rain Catchers



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