Yard clippings and dog waste are some of the reasons two streams in Sandy Springs become contaminated, says a Kennesaw State University class, whose members presented findings of a six-week summer study to the community on June 24.
The study marked the fourth year the class has teamed with the Watershed Alliance of Sandy Springs to conduct field studies monitoring the health of Long Island and Marsh creeks.
“It’s a service for the community and an educational experience for [the class],” said Dick Farmer of the Watershed Alliance.
The class started after Farmer came across a study of Long Island Creek conducted in 2001 by KSU Professor Mark Patterson and got in touch with him.
Farmer asked Patterson if he would be interested in following up on the study.
Patterson, along with fellow professor Nancy Hoalst-Pullen, Farmer and Patty Berkovitz of the Watershed Allliance, starting devising a full-credit summer course giving geography students real-world experience in the field.
“On average we have 18 to 24 students each summer,” said Patterson, adding that during the course students conduct studies such as water quality testing and urban tree risk assessment.
Students in KSU’s Watershed Assessment and Watershed Analysis classes say that while overall the streams are in good condition, there are signs of contamination, in some cases, extreme. “In only the second week, one site found extremely high E. coliform counts,” Patterson said.
The Watershed Alliance subsequently alerted Fulton County and the city of Sandy Springs of the high E. coli counts, and also notified nearby homeowners of the risk.
The county found a manhole overflow and notified the Environmental Protection Division. The water was treated, and the numbers started coming back down.
Student Amy Taylor described her team’s experience in monitoring a section of Long Island Creek.
“Our biggest concerns on this watershed were mainly the yards that were right next to this site,” she said. “We found traces of animal waste decomposing near the stream and in the yards.” Taylor also noted erosion taking place on the stream banks, exposing roots and contributing to potential tree collapses, which also dam up the stream and cause further pollution.
Overall the students found E. coli levels in both streams troubling, noting that growing amounts of impervious surfaces that come with new development are also a factor in the pollution along with yard and pet waste.
But while the biological conditions of the streams need monitoring, the students found that it’s not all bad news for the two urban watersheds.
The students found pH balances and dissolved oxygen, which allows aquatic life to breathe, to be in acceptable ranges.
“Surprisingly, given how many manicured lawns there are, they’re not finding a lot of [fertilizer traces] in the water,” Patterson said.
The results of the students’ study can be found at http://watershed2014.wikispaces.com/.