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Fish Kill In Altamaha Canal and
Arco Pond Suspicious

Not everyone is as willing as the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to jump to the conclusion that the October 9-10, 2005 fish kill in the Altamaha Canal and Arco pond was from natural causes. 


Fish floated everywhere you looked on the Arco pond and vultures circled overhead.  Crabs were seen leaving the water to escape the septic conditions.
                    Photo: Daniel Parshley, GEC


Sampling confirmed what our nose and eyes were telling us - septic sewage had been released into the pond and canal.  This was not the first time the GEC had been called to this spot by a memberís call.  In June 2003 we had seen the same gray water flowing down the Altamaha Canal, only this time hundreds of dead fish were floating on the surface and vultures hovered overhead.

In June 2003, the GEC took samples of the gray septic water for bacterial analysis, which confirmed what our noses were telling us - there was fecal coliform and enterroccocus bacterial contamination.  We could watch the fish gulping for air but at that time did not have the instruments to measure levels of dissolved oxygen.



   Shortly after the October 2005 fish kill was reported by a GEC member and a quick check of the situation made, assistance was requested from Altamaha Riverkeeper, James Holland.  James assisted in responding to the event, taking water samples, and measuring dissolved oxygen in the water.  The dissolved oxygen meter confirmed what we suspected, there were extremely low levels of oxygen in the water, which is not unusual when a septic situation is encountered.  Sample results for bacterial contamination would take a few days to receive.

   When results were received, the levels were so high that they  were questioned and checked for accuracy.  Fecal coliform was indicated at 500,000 per 100 milliliters water (maximum allowable is 200), and enterroccocus was indicated at 3,800 per 100 milliliters water (maximum allowable is 104).   Levels of bacteria like these are not a natural occurrence, they are a sewage spill, and a very large one.    

The question of the fish kill and sewage spill being related is being debated by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.  Regardless, the situation is a public health threat and a potential economic threat to our community.  At a time when several regulating agencies are searching far and wide for the cause of persistent beach water contamination, large sewage releases like the one into the Altamaha Canal should be a concern to every business that depends on our beaches, tourism, and water based recreation.  It does not take but a few sewage releases like the one documented by the GEC and Altamaha Riverkeeper to render our rivers, sounds, and beaches unusable.

   Sewage spills to the Altamaha Canal are an ongoing problem that has not been resolved.  Efforts continue to find the source of the sewage but are being hampered by tidal fluctuations and marshy terrain.  Hopefully we will be able to report the source of the problem to you in the near future.  Meanwhile, every person who

The Arco pond (upper right) and Koch Cellulose (left side) empty into the Altamaha Canal (center).  The marsh between the Arco pond and Koch Cellulose was the apparent source of the sewage release.
Photo: James Holland, Altamaha Riverkeeper
depends on tourism, our water resources, or just enjoys taking their family to the beach should demand a better answer from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division regarding the ongoing problem of sewage spills to the Altamaha Canal.  Claiming natural causes as the cause of a sewage spill just doesnít pass the laugh test.

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