RCE Greater Atlanta - 2023

Long-term Monitoring of E. Coli in the Chattahoochee River – Neighborhood Water Watch Program and Two Case Studies: Sewage Spill and Headless Goats
Basic Information
Title of project : 
Long-term Monitoring of E. Coli in the Chattahoochee River – Neighborhood Water Watch Program and Two Case Studies: Sewage Spill and Headless Goats
Submitting RCE: 
RCE Greater Atlanta
Contributing organization(s) : 
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (CRK)
North Atlanta High School
Georgia Gwinnett College
Focal point(s) and affiliation(s)
Annie Lin
Organizational Affiliation: 
North Atlanta High School
Mike Meyer
Organizational Affiliation: 
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper
Format of project: 
Language of project: 
Date of submission:
Wednesday, August 23, 2023
Additional resources: 
Neighborhood Water Watch
At what level is the policy operating?: 
Geographical & Education Information
United States
Metro Atlanta, Georgia
Address of focal point institution for project: 
4111 Northside Pkwy NW, Atlanta, GA 30327
Socioeconomic and environmental characteristics of the area : 
The Chattahoochee River originates in southern Blue Ridge Mountains in North Georgia and runs through Greater Atlanta, which is a developed metro area with more than five million in population. After Metro Atlanta, it flows south to form the southern half of the Alabama and Georgia border, as well as a portion of the Florida and Georgia border. As such, the Chattahoochee River Basin covers a diverse range of communities, from metropolitan to rural and from affluent to economically disadvantaged.
Description of sustainable development challenge(s) in the area the project addresses: 
“Although river health has improved in recent decades, more than 1,000 miles of waterways within the Chattahoochee watershed still do not meet water-quality standards. And that means potential health threats to people and wildlife that come in contact with it.” (Source: CRK website) Greater Atlanta has sewage pipelines and water treatment systems that are very complicated. It’s constantly challenging and requires a comprehensive and collaborative effort to monitor and address contaminations and any other issues that may occur.
January, 2013
Water quality of the Chattahoochee River is essential to life quality for millions of people in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida. As the largest river in Georgia, the Chattahoochee is not only the major source of drinking water but also an important outdoor recreational area for local people. As North Georgia’s most comprehensive and impactful monitoring and reclamation program, CRK’s Neighborhood Water Watch (NWW) program has been tracking the E. coli and other contaminants levels at about 400 sites along the river and its tributaries for more than 10 years, to detect and address contamination sources. The program is highly valuable as it utilizes multiple resources, including local volunteers and university labs, to contribute to the collaborative effort. This experience can be applied in any similar cities/environments in this nation or world wide.
Neighborhood Water Watch (NWW) is a fast-paced community driven collaborative program between CRK and neighborhood groups, schools, and people in our watershed. The goal is to work together to assess and improve water quality in urban streams, while protecting human health in neighboring communities. (source: CRK website) Such assessment prompts citizens to seek solutions to problems detected and to develop and reinforce sound environmental policies, with the ultimate objective of improving life quality for people in communities along the Chattahoochee River Basin.
Activities and/or practices employed: 
Concerned residents from all reaches of the Chattahoochee River basin bring water samples from over 200 stream stations to CRK’s laboratories, as part of NWW. Water samples are promptly analyzed for turbidity, conductivity, optical brighteners, and E. coli. Any threats indicated are addressed by CRK, as we work with local governments, neighborhood groups, and leaders to stop public health threats and restore our streams. (source: CRK website)
Size of academic audience: 
Two case studies:
1. The recent sewage spill from the Big Creek Water Treatment Plant: a leakage was evident when CRK staff spotted lots of toilet papers bubbling up the water near Willeo Park. Water samples collected from multiple sites downstream showed dramatically elevated E. coli level. Part of the river was closed for recreational activities until the E. coli level was down to normal.
2. Headless goats: dead goats without heads were spotted near the I-20 bridge by Six Flags Park and downstream since 2018, sometimes hundreds of them. The carcasses were left rotten on the river attracting countless flies, and the stench was obvious from far away. Water sampled from Fairburn Rd. site showed extremely high E. coli levels (several times higher than the level associated with the sewage spill accident) between 2018 and 2020. The source and purpose of these killed goats remain mysteries.
Lessons learned: 
The case studies presented here demonstrate the importance of the NWW program by CRK on the detection and response to sewage spills, and suggest more sampling sites and higher frequency to improve the reaction time and minimize the contamination. Regarding the mystery of the dead goats, unfortunately due to the very limited data (few sites and low frequency of sampling), the unknown dates of the dumping, and other factors such as local sewage spill that may influence the E. coli levels, not much conclusion can be drawn. On the other hand, It does show the importance of more frequent sampling and monitoring efforts, which require additional resources and funds.
Key messages: 
When it comes to environmental issues that affect an entire region, it takes the whole community to work together. CRK's NWW has had a huge impact on assessing and improving water quality. It raises awareness, encourages collaboration, and serves as an excellent model for youth engagement and education.
Relationship to other RCE activities: 
Southeast Environmental Justice
CRK is a non-profit organization supported by member donations and corporate sponsors such as Cox Enterprises / Cox Conserves.


File Name Caption for picture Photo Credit
Image icon Chattahoochee River Sampling Site Map.JPG (190.88 KB) Map of sampling sites Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and Annie Lin
Image icon Graph of E. coli levels at Fairburn Road.JPG (70.73 KB) Graph of E. coli levels at Fairburn Road Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and Annie Lin
Image icon Sampling and Analysis.JPG (200.63 KB) Sampling and lab work Annie Lin
References and reference materials: 
UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
(https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs) and other themes of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)
SDG 2 - End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture 
SDG 3 - Ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages 
SDG 6 - Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all 
SDG 11 - Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable 
SDG 13 - Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts 
SDG 15 - Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation, and halt biodiversity loss 
Plants & Animals 
ESD for 2030-Priority Action Areas
Priority Action Area 1 - Advancing policy 
Priority Action Area 5 - Accelerating sustainable solutions at local level 
I acknowledge the above: