By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
First of all,
there’s nothing wrong with Lookout Creek.
stream, which flows from its Alabama headwaters through Dade to the Tennessee
River, is the county’s lifeline, the sole source of its public drinking water
supply, and Doug Anderton, manager of the Dade Water Authority, has always
bragged what a good source it is.
specialist Dan Huser of Limestone Valley RC&D, which stands for Rural
Conservation and Development, doesn’t disagree with that, even though he was
awarded a grant to for the creek based on its fecal coliform bacteria count.
“I’m sure the water that everybody’s drinking is really, really clean,” he
It’s treated, for
one thing, he said, and for another, on an ordinary day when it hasn’t been
raining, the creek’s raw-water bacteria counts usually fall within acceptable
ranges. “These problems are virtually everywhere, and the one here isn’t a very
bad bacterial problem that I see,” he said. “But we got a grant to do something
about it here.”
explained, identified a 14-mile stretch of Lookout Creek north of town, running
from Trenton to the Tennessee line, as having tested at some point high enough
in fecal coliform for concern.
“Each state is
responsible for a list of waters that they find somewhat polluted,” said Huser.
“Many waters are polluted. Probably 40 to 50 percent of America’s waters are on
these lists per state. In Dade County, I think there’s two impaired reaches,
and those are the ones we’re focusing on.”
So it isn’t
that Lookout Creek is especially polluted, said Huser. It’s just that it’s
polluted enough to make the list, and it’s within Limestone Valley’s 11-county
territory, so the RC&D applied for and was awarded a grant to map, sample
and produce a plan for improving this particular watershed.
he explained, is what RC&Ds do. Created under the Kennedy administration as
quasi-government entities working to improve the environment, they were later
converted into standalone nonprofits that derive their funding from federal
grants. Each covers 10 or 11 counties depending on county size, and each
operates environmental projects depending on their individual area’s needs.
“They tend to
have forestry applications and agricultural-type projects,” said Huser. “In our
group, since I’ve been on, we’ve been doing these Clean Water Section 319
The Clean Water
Act, he said, was passed in 1973 as an effort to deal with the realization that
America’s waters were becoming health hazards, but almost immediately its
implementation had required modification.
Water Act came out and they made all your industries get permits, and they put
caps on effluent per month that people were allowed to dump in the water, and
they put caps on air pollution that people were allowed to admit,” said Huser.
“Well, they didn’t put anything with regard to storm water, and they didn’t put
anything with regard to agriculture at the time. A few years later, they
realized over half the pollution in America was kind of coming from ubiquitous
points on the landscape, not point-source pollution.”
pollution, he said, is easy to identify:
a pipe coming out of a factory dumping waste straight into the river.
Non-point-source is harder to find and fix:
a car’s oil pan leaks and the oil eventually trickles into a storm
drain; homeowners overfertilize their lawns and the nutrients wash out into
streams; cattle droppings leach into creeks; septic tanks fail. One good rain
and all these pollutants make their way into streams, swelling bacterial
coming from all over the landscape, from everywhere,” said Huser. “So they
realized, OK, half our pollution is coming from everywhere at once, so they
came up with the non-point-source program. That’s where these grants come
said Huser, is that streams empty into larger streams, which empty into rivers,
which empty into oceans. And just as the problem is cumulative, so is the fix,
with small local cleanups contributing to cleaner water in America overall.
“If you were doing nothing about these
problems everywhere, perhaps there would be so many nutrients in the river
systems that there’d be algal mats everywhere,” said Huser. “You have the dead
zone in the Gulf of Mexico that’s the size of New Jersey this year or bigger,
and that’s because all this waste and nutrients are flushing down the system.
So to reduce some of that is necessary from a lot of standpoints.”
Huser has been
sampling and mapping Lookout Creek since January. Now, assisted by University
of Tennessee master’s degree candidate Amanda Atwell, he is wrapping up the
mapping phase but will continue to draw samples all year from Wildwood to
Rising Fawn. Samples are tested not only for fecal coliform but for turbidity,
dissolved oxygen, pH and temperature.
“We’re actually doing a lot more than we’re
probably required to do, but at the same time she’s doing research that’s going
to be very likely publishable science,” said Huser.
they’ll be doing soon is what Huser calls “macroinvertebrate sampling.” Just as
Huser often uses the noun “effluent” to refer to a substance that in the
plumbing adage does not flow uphill, “macroinvertebrate” is science-speak for:
mayflies and caddisflies are all really sensitive, so when you find a lot of
those, you know you’re in a clean area,” said Huser. By contrast, he said, a
sampler can quickly conclude, “OK, if there’s just oligochaete worms and
left-handed lung snails, then this water quality is horrible.”
(No, he did not
make up the term “left-handed lung snail.” It is an invertebrate that survives
well in polluted water. And if, like the Sentinel, the reader did not realize
snails had hands, Huser explains that they are referred to as left- or
right-handed depending on which side their shell opens.)
research stage, Huser must complete a management plan for Lookout Creek. He has
just started but said that typically plans include recommendations for
rotational grazing in livestock operations, storm water management and septic
repair. He stressed that his program never points fingers or tries to force
anybody to do anything. “It’s just voluntary conservation, is what it is,” he said,
In fact, he
said, local populations and especially health departments usually love these
Clean Water grants. If all goes well with this smaller grant – it’s about
$35-40,000, says Huser – the next step is to apply for a larger one –
$150-200,000 – that will help individuals pay for septic tank repairs. Matching
funds are required but the grant will underwrite a greater than 50 percent
share depending on need.
matching funds may be in kind. Huser was describing his work at an interview at
the Dade County Library. The library’s donation of workspace for Huser – the
RC&D’s offices are in Calhoun and Ringgold – counts toward matching funds
from the county, just as Ms. Atwell’s work is counted as matching funds from
local contractors also benefit from Clean Water grants because they bid for
work doing septic repairs or putting up stream crossings or fences. “In the
past, we’ve had contractors that do 75 percent of their work through us in a
given year,” he said. The saying goes, he added, that federal money turns over
seven times in a community.
In any case,
Dade officials say they’re pleased to have Huser and his grant here. County
Executive Ted Rumley said he was curious to know how clean the creek water is
coming in from the southern border, where he says Alabama’s welcome center
operates its own small wastewater treatment facility.
Anderton of the Water Authority was also interested what Huser’s tests will
show. “It’ll be nice to know what the quality of the raw water is before we
treat it,” said. “That’s beneficial to us.”
The public will
get a chance to see what Huser is doing in October, when he plans a Rivers
Alive cleanup of Lookout Creek at Sitton’s Mill. Meanwhile, he may be contacted
for more information at (423) 544-9076 or email@example.com.