Coosa Riverkeeper provides data on water quality

Published 10:12 am Friday, May 5, 2017

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Coosa Riverkeeper executive director Justinn Overton highlighted the Swim Guide during a recent Chilton County Chamber of Commerce meeting.

The Swim Guide gives information on 20 popular swimming spots in the lower and middle Coosa River basins, including local sites such as Higgins Ferry Park, for 20 weeks.

“We are filling a very important water quality gap,” Overton said.

The state does not require testing of freshwater lakes or streams.

The goal is to eventually have this information updated every week of the year for fisherman and boats.

“We work to ensure that you are swimming in waters that are safe … that you know if there are advisories,” Overton said.

Coosa Riverkeeper works “to protect, restore and promote the river and its tributaries here in Alabama,” Overton said.

The nonprofit has two paid staff members and several interns.

Overton said the Swim Guide program was developed after the organization got questions about if water was safe to swim in.

Information is released on Friday so people can make informed decisions about whether to go swimming that weekend.

This program costs more than $30,000, not including staff salaries. It is funded through foundation grants, donations and Coosa Riverkeeper dues-paying members.

The Swim Guide was developed to be timely, reliable and easy to understand. The information is charted on a searchable map. Red indicates that it is not safe to swim, yellow indicates swimmers should be cautious and green indicates it is safe.

“If it’s yellow, get in with caution and consider not getting you ear, nose, throat area under water,” Overton said.

Contaminated water can cause ear infections, stomach “If its yellow, get in with caution and consider note getting you ear, nose, throat area under water,” Overton said.

Contaminated water can cause ear infections, stomach issues and infection of cuts.

The spots for sampling are chosen “dependent on input from the public and areas we think there could be issues based on wastewater treatment plants in the area, trailer parks that might have failing septic [and] so on,” Overton said.

Water samples are collected to determine if the water is safe to swim in and determine any ecological concerns in the area.

Rain runoff impacts E. Coli levels, so data may not be accurate after rainfall. Overton said the organization recommends not swimming until three days after a heavy rain event.

One of the major things Coosa Riverkeeper tests for is E.Coli. Overton said if water samples light up under backlight, an unhealthy level of E. Coli is present. Bacteria can grow longer in shade because the sun breaks down bacteria.

“E. Coli is found in the intestines of warm-blooded animals,” Overton said.

In one area, flocks of geese pooping in the area caused unsafe E. Coli levels. Overton said they were gathering there because people were feeding them.

They also gather data on the amount of sediment in the water, dissolved oxygen and ph levels.

The level of dissolved oxygen is an indicator as to how healthy the water is for fish and other aquatic life.

Results of the water tests are available through weekly texts, or by weekly emails. There is also a Waterkeeper Swim Guide app available.

To sign up for text alerts, text SWIMGUIDE to 844-83. Texts are sent on Friday around noon. Overton said alerts can be narrowed to the areas a person is interested in.

People should not swim in freshwater streams of lakes if they have cuts or bug bites or are sick.

Overton said the Coosa Riverkeeper lab follows the same guidelines as the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, and is working on EPA certification.