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 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.


LMLPA working to protect Lake Logan Martin

About 50 members of the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association (LMLPA) met at the Pell City Civic Center at Cropwell to attend the Logan Martin ‘State of the Lake’ Program on October 13th, 2009.  Bill Deutsch, Alabama Water Watch (AWW) Director, and Eric Reutebuch and Sergio Ruiz-Cordova, AWW staff,  traveled up from Auburn University to speak about lake water quality and the LMLPA’s strong commitment to volunteer monitoring and lake protection.

Read about the meeting in the Pell City paper

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AWW presents State of the Lake Address at Lake Martin

Alabama Water Watch Program staff, Bill Deutsch (Program Director), Eric Reutebuch and Jayme Oates, and Auburn University staff, Mike Kensler (Outreach Programs Administrator) traveled to Lake Martin to present a “State of the Lake” program during the Lake Watch of Lake Martin (LWLM) 17th annual meeting at the Elks Lodge in Alexander City on Oct. 25. About 40 LWLM members attended the meeting. Bill Deutsch began the presentation by reminding all present that the battle over water among Georgia, Florida and Alabama rages on, and has direct implications for the waters of Lake Martin. He then commended the Bronsons, Dick and Mary Ann, for their leadership and dedication to Lake Watch and to the lake over the past two decades. Dick has served as the group’s President since 1991. Lake Watch is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that conducts monthly water quality monitoring at several sites on Lake Martin, along with lake clean ups, environmental education and advocacy.

                        Click here for PowerPoint Presentation

Eric Reutebuch then gave a brief overview of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s (ADEM’s) assessment of Lake Martin. He pointed out that in ADEM’s most recent Report to Congress, Martin was identified as the lake with the lowest trophic state index (TSI), thus, the cleanest lake in the state (see TSI is a gauge that quantifies lake pollution or enrichment on a scale from zero to 100 – the higher the value, the more polluted or enriched a lake is. Lake Martin falls in the ‘oligotrophic’ range of the TSI scale, which is characterized by clear, clean waters exhibiting low biological productivity; the same rating that Martin exhibited 20 years earlier in a 1989 AU study by Dr. David Bayne*.  Eric noted that the recent ADEM assessment was based on 2007 water quality data collected near the dam.


Eric then discussed the ranking of LWLM relative to the other 17 AWW-certified citizen monitoring groups in the Tallapoosa River Basin. Based on water quality data collected and submitted to the AWW statewide database, LWLM ranks first in water chemistry data, and third in total water quality data (including water chemistry and bacteriological data) in the basin. The group currently has seven active water monitoring sites on the lake (see and click the green dot on the Lake Martin). A query of the LWLM water data indicated that seven of their sites have continuous monthly monitoring water quality records for more than a decade! A comparison of citizen data to ADEM data over the past five years indicated that ADEM sampled 123 times (dates sampled x stations sampled per date) while LWLM sampled 349 times, approximately three times more than ADEM. This comparison highlights one of the several advantages of citizen volunteer monitoring by certified monitors – a committed local group tends to monitor much more regularly (usually monthly throughout the year) for a longer period of time, and at more sites than a state agency , in this case ADEM, does.


Eric continued by featuring long-term trend data from two of the LWLM monitoring sites. The first, Larry Locke’s site # 07001010 in Elkahatchee Creek Embayment, has been sampled continuously every month since July of 1996 (161 months). Eric showed that Mr. Locke’s long-term data monitoring indicates a steady decline in dissolved oxygen over the last several years, evident by the descending trend line the data produces. This was a surprise to both Bill and Eric, who assumed that water quality, and therefore, dissolved oxygen concentrations, would steadily improve in Elkahatchee Creek Embayment since the Alexander City wastewater treatment plant outfall was diverted from the Sugar/Elkahatchee Creek Drainage out into the mainstem of Lake Martin several years earlier, in June of 2001. Eric pointed out that the LWLM dataset is the only information available that has documented this unexpected trend, which deserves further investigation.


Eric featured a second long-term trend from LWLM site # 07001003, Lake Martin at Bay Pine Island. This is LWLM’s oldest site, monitored monthly for the past 196 months since June of 1993 by the group’s President, Dick Bronson. He showed that Mr. Bronson’s dissolved oxygen readings have never dropped below the state-mandated minimum value of 5 ppm, the minimum amount required to maintain a healthy fish population. This impressive 16-year trend (along with a suite of additional parameters measured by Mr. Bronson) indicates that this portion of Lake Martin is in good shape.

Eric concluded with brief mention of two lake studies, the Tallapoosa Watershed Project and the ongoing 2009 APCo Lake Martin Water Quality Study, that LWLM has played an integral role in. LWLM not only aided in drafting the two studies, but has also actively participated in the research and outreach components of the studies. These and other Lake Martin studies have yielded a long-term trend graph of the lake’s TSI measurements dating back to 1989 which shows that although the TSI in the upper lake (measured at the Highway 280 bridge) had risen dramatically through the 1990s into the ‘low-eutrophic’ TSI zone, the values have stabilized since then at around 50. Mr. Bronson added that this graph indicates the bipolar nature of current conditions of the lake – the more polluted ‘eutrophic’ upper lake versus the nearly-pristine ‘oligotrophic’ lower lake.  Lastly, Eric then acknowledged LWLM’s role in the success and evolution of the Annual Tallapoosa Watershed Conference, a product of the Tallapoosa Watershed Project that garnered attention from USDA-CSREES (project funder) as one of their National Water Program success stories (see

Mike Kensler concluded the program with a series of slides showing the rapid development in Alabama based on the decadal increase in housing density from 1940 through density projected for 2030. Mike’s point was that development/urban-suburban expansion is coming, and it is up to the current generation to guide and shape the course of this expansion to determine what Lake Martin, and the rest of the state, will look like in 2030. Jayme Oates added that in the course of several follow-up meetings with a variety of stakeholder groups in the Lake Martin Watershed, that she and Mike have experienced a lot of interest and support for advancing watershed management in the Tallapoosa Basin to protect the quality of Lake Martin’s waters, the theme of the 2009 Tallapoosa Watershed Conference (see Mr. Bronson concluded the meeting by reporting that LWLM is pursuing a special designation/recognition from ADEM to aid in protecting the Jewel of the Tallapoosa – Lake Martin.

*Bayne, D. R., W. C. Seesock and L. D. Benefield.  1989.  Water Quality Assessment, Alabama Public Lakes 1989.  Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Montgomery, AL. 178 pp.

Monitoring Lessons from International Projects

The new issue of the Volunteer Monitor newsletter features an article titled Monitoring Lessons from International Projects by Bill Deutsch, AWW and Global Water Watch Program Director.

  Click here for article

The AWW Office at Upchurch Hall on AU campus will have copies to distribute. If you

would like one, please let us know and we’ll mail it to you, or you can stop by to pick one up. We’ll also have this issue and other pertinent issues available at our workshops and other meetings.

To view and download this and other volumes of the Volunteer Monitor, go to the Volunteer Monitor website -> CLICK HERE.

Training in Arley yields four new AWW trainers

Bill Deutsch and Sergio Ruiz-Cordova traveled to Arley, Alabama to train a group of Alabama Water Watch-certified volunteer monitors to become AWW trainers Saturday, September 12th. The AWW Training of Trainers Workshop was held at the Meek High School in Arley. The AWW Program has been training citizens throughout the state to test the water quality of their local streams, rivers, lakes, bays and bayous since 1993. Bill quickly realized that the exponential growth in volunteer monitors could not be sustained with just a couple of AWW trainers, and developed the Training of Trainer Workshop in 1995. Currently, the AWW Program has about 40 trainers statewide, and AWW-certified volunteer trainers conducted about 2/3rds of trainings within the past year. Since 1993, over 5,000 Alabamian have been certified as AWW water monitors.

Trainees, Larry Barkey (on left) and James Mason (in back) receive training materials from Bill Deutsch

The ranks of AWW trainers gained four new recruits at the Arley training, and two veteran trainers went through the Trainer Refresher Workshop. The workshop participants came from the Black Warrior, Coosa and Tennessee River basins, and represented five AWW monitor groups (listed below). New trainees included: 

  • John Kulbitkas representing Smith Lake Civic Association
  • Larry Barkey representing Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy
  • James Mason representing Huntsville Senior Environment Corps
  • Loretta Weninegar representing Columbia High School, Huntsville, AL

Trainers that got refreshed included:

  • Ray O’Donnell representing RSVP/Marshall County
  • Isabella Trussell representing Logan Martin Lake Protection Association

Bill opened the workshop with an overview of AWW Program trends. He then reviewed the Executive Summary of the 2008 AWW Annual Report, and lead a discussion “Thinking about AWW in the Big Picture”, touching on comparative advantages of AWW monitoring, maintaining quality citizen water data, interpretation of the citizen data, better use of the data, and AWW success stories and local initiatives.

Other topics of discussion included volunteer monitor group dynamics, levels of AWW certification, role of the Alabama Water Watch Association, what is involved in becoming a trainer, planning an AWW workshop, preparing for a workshop, conducting a workshop, and following up after a workshop.

Special thanks to Ms. Susette Rohde, the Meek High School science teacher who assisted with  training logistics and provided delicious home-made treats for the participants! To locate an AWW trainer near you and request a training workshop, go to the AWW website at and click on the Monitor Resources menu, or call the AWW toll-free number at (888) 844-4785. And the next time that you’re out cruising on a beautiful lake, paddling down a picturesque stream, or fishing in a productive bayou, remember to shout out a big “Thank You!” to the selfless volunteer trainers – like John, Larry, James Loretta, Ray and Isabella, and

the volunteer monitors who give hundreds of hours of their time to watch over and protect the rich aquatic resources of our State.

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