By Diane Wagner
Paul and Gail East are tired of sitting in their back yard, watching the South River die.
In years past, they've gathered water plants for their ponds and fished for bass.
But they haven't seen any plants lately and doubt the existence of healthy fish.
"We have about 2,000 feet on the river at Snapping Shoals," Gail East said. "But the river is full of silt and Lake Jackson is just a mud-hole. Where is that coming from?"
The issue of where pollutants come from, and how they can be prevented, was the focus of a public meeting on water quality sponsored by the Atlanta Regional Commission on Monday at the Henry County Administration Building.
The Easts were among the handful of area residents who attended the 3 p.m. session, along with professionals from Henry and Clayton counties and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
Portions of the South River and Big Cotton Indian Creek are listed by the EPD as impaired by pollution.
Erosion from construction activity is a major cause of pollutants in local rivers and streams, but the issue is much more complex, according to Mary Gazaway, environmental outreach coordinator for the EPD's Water Protection Branch.
"Everything we do, everything we put on the surface of the land, has an effect on water quality," she said.
ARC water planner Matt Harper said research in preparing a draft proposal to reduce pollutants showed a wide range of sources, from livestock and pet waste to the detergents from cars washed on impermeable concrete surfaces.
Harper gave an example of a man who installed a second bathroom in his basement and ran the pipe to the storm drain outside his house. Unlike a sanitary sewer treatment system, storm drains run directly to the waterways.
"That's one more instance of people doing the wrong thing because they don't know any better," he said.
Educating the public and clearly labeling storm drains are two of the elements of a watershed management plan Henry County submitted to the state in March.
Approval from the state is still pending, but so is a local decision regarding the operation of the new program.
The Henry County Board of Commissioners must determine if it will take charge of stormwater controls or delegate the responsibility to the Water and Sewerage Authority or a regional collaborative.
"There's still some fine-tuning going on there," county erosion control engineer Jaret Elwell said.
Elwell spent some time at the meeting getting tips from Kim Zimmerman of the Clayton County Water Authority. Since Clayton County's growth spurt began a decade or so before Henry's, the county has already implemented a stormwater management plan.
Zimmerman said she would try to open Clayton's Adopt-A-Stream program to Henry residents who are interested in learning how to take care of local streams.
"We're glad to help out while you're getting started," she said. "We have a vested interest, since we have drinking water reservoirs here."