Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

Water Quality


The Chattahoochee River is the most heavily used water resource in Georgia (USGS Water Resources Investigations Report 95-4278). The quality of the water is a result of the complex interaction of natural and human influences on land and water. Metropolitan Atlanta, the largest and fastest growing metro area in the Southeast, is in the river basin’s headwaters. The basin’s growing population presents challenges to balancing human and ecosystem needs for water of sufficient quantity and quality.


Urban runoff and other nonpoint sources, such as eroded soil from construction activities, constitute approximately 75 percent of the pollution problems. Various state and federal laws mandate the control of stormwater runoff in order to protect downstream water quality and property values, however, enforcement is severely lacking at all levels of government. Silvicultural and agricultural activities can also influence aquatic ecosystems primarily through nonpoint source inputs of pesticides, nutrients and sediment, and by physical alteration of riparian and stream margin habitats. The cumulative effect of these activities has not been systematically evaluated in the ACF basin. (USGS Report, 95-4278)


More than 150 municipal and industrial wastewater treatment facilities are permitted to discharge into the Chattahoochee River basin between the town of Helen and West Point Dam. These discharges include approximately 500 million gallons of treated sewage from cities and counties. The Chattahoochee River Basin Plan includes information on all of these permitted discharges. Although the quality of wastewater effluent has improved since the 1980s, inadequate treatment capabilities or operational deficiencies at some of these facilities continue to result in permit violations and water quality problems.


National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program

In 1991, the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) River Basin was selected by the U.S. Geological Survey for investigation in the NAWQA Program. Its objective: provide a broad synthesis of topics relevant to understanding the health of the aquatic ecosystem and water quality conditions in the ACF River Basin.


Among other conclusions, this study determined that two-thirds of the 938 stream miles in the Georgia portion of the ACF River basin had water quality that did not meet or only partially met the designated use criteria. (Fishing is the use designation not met in greater than 80 percent of impaired stream miles.) EPA’s National Study of Chemical Residues in Fish (1991) revealed that tissue in fish caught in the Chattahoochee River below Atlanta contained chemical concentrations that were among the highest in the nation. (USGS Report, 95-4278)


To obtain a copy of the full report, you may call the U.S. Geological Survey office in Atlanta at: 770-903-9100, or send an email. Please give the title, report type (such as Open-File Report or Water-Resources Investigations Report), and number when you request a report.

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