Lake Lanier residents get answers to water quality concerns

Published 2:34 pm Monday, July 28, 2008

Fellow property owners,

I had a long (over an hour) conversation with Kevin Lewis, Environmental Quality Control Manager and Water Quality Coordinator for the Greenville office of the SC Department of Environmental Health and Control (SCDHEC), this afternoon. With that information, I am ready to report on the water issue, which has seen so much discussion in past weeks. Kevin was very patient with me and went through, in great detail, how the DHEC system works, how the lake system works and what he found in his research. I will try to synopsize what he told me and make it as understandable as possible.

First, SCDHEC runs a water testing program for all lakes in the state on a five year cycle. Lake Lanier is in the fourth year of its cycle so, even though the report is available, it is pretty much out of date. The good news is that SCDHEC will actively test our lake water in each and every month next year. Even better news is that Spartanburg tests the water in Vaughn Creek and Tryon tests the water at the dam in the same spots that SCDHEC does, every day. Kevin has access to the actual data they collect and is effectively able to check water quality daily when he needs to.

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While many things affect our lake water, the culprit of concern is Escherichia coli or e-coli bacteria. That is about the only thing that makes our pets and us sick other than industrial waste like heavy metals, with which we have no problem. E-coli comes exclusively from fecal matter (sewage and animal waste) and it is always present in any &uot;raw water source.&uot; It typically gets worse as watershed areas are developed and it collects when water flow is low. When it rains, the water flow increases and that is when most e-coli is washed into the lake from the creek feeders. The greatest danger therefore is right after thunderstorms, which generate large water flows into the lake. That is, of course, just the situation we have had in the last week. A long dry spell followed by thunderstorms.

The way that water quality is scored is by the number of coliform colonies per milliliter. The ranges are 0 to 200, which is considered normal and safe, and 200 to 400, which indicates concern, and over 400, which means corrective action must be taken and danger signs are posted. Remember, Spartanburg and Tryon collect this data daily and they use the same collection points as SCDHEC.

Kevin collected the data for the past week and then did a historical &uot;trend&uot; for me over the past 4 years. The immediate results are that the Vaughn Creek area at the end of third basin showed a count of 100 colonies per milliliter and the dam showed 1 (yes one!) colony per milliliter. That is to say, Vaughn Creek is in great shape and the dam is almost drinking water quality. I was surprised&ellip;.

But wait, I said, there has to be more to this because people and pets have gotten sick and the water looks more &uot;brackish&uot; as it has gotten darker in color and at times it has a smell about it. Kevin calmly replied that is caused by a few different things, like pollen, algae and decaying plant matter, none of which are harmful to humans or pets. He then told me about his historical analysis and the trend that it shows. Over the past few years, the phosphate level has been increasing. This is important because phosphate encourages algae blooms, which can result in fish kill events. Oxygen content has been declining which may be caused by increased algae and/or low water flow/churning. My guess is that Spartanburg&39;s use of our watershed has a general negative effect on our water quality in third basin but, as Kevin pointed out, because the quality is so high at the dam, the lake system is really dealing with the pollution that enters the lake really well. It is also an advantage that Spartanburg checks the water quality daily and will take action quickly if there is a problem.

All this is great and it means that we don&39;t have anything to worry about with regard to the lake as a whole. This does not mean that we have no reason to be concerned on a local basis, though. Kevin was at the lake yesterday and caught a young lake resident who had been dumping sewage from a chemical toilet in a roadside ditch along the cove in first basin. The site was about 15 feet from a drain grate that goes straight into the lake. That practice can send the coliform count off the scale in that locale. If there have been spot areas around the lake, where people or animals have gotten sick, the local area needs to be checked. Look for toilet paper or fecal matter floating or on the bottom of the lake and report it to SCDHEC! The office number in Greenville is: 864-241-1090. The point is that, if we want the quality of our water to improve, we need to be vigilant about our own property and the property around us.

Another point of interest came up in my general conversation with Kevin. He mentioned that herbicide had been sprayed into the lake at the old scout camp and that act had upset some people around the lake. He went on to say that the party that did the spraying had contacted Tryon and worked with them through the process. They also went to an extension unit at Clemson where the lily pads were analyzed and an herbicide was recommended for that specific plant. That herbicide was also safe for use in a drinking water supply lake. It was done in an exemplary fashion and there was zero residual in the lake water which is monitored daily by Tryon.

If there is interest, Kevin and Amanda Ley, who is the SC Watershed Basin Manager, based in Columbia, are available for meeting presentations and they have printed information as well. It just depends on how far we want to take this. Please let Allen Smith know of your interest and I am sure we can look into putting something together.

Lastly, if you want to know everything about the &uot;Broad&uot; watershed basin, which contains Lake Lanier, go to and look around. You can download a number of Acrobat PDF files that tell everything from the history to the testing procedures to the results that I have covered in short form here. The SCDHEC site ( ) has a great deal of information on what South Carolina does with regard to our water.

Thank you for taking the time to read my water epic. I hope that it has put you at ease with regard to using the lake. If you have any further questions, please contact me through LLCA- so everyone can share in the conversation.


Ed Machen