Riverkeeper hosts tour of Lake Lanier



FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — With ropes untied and anchors aboard, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper guided sightseers around Lake Lanier during an educational and relaxing tour on Aug. 3.

About 45 people boarded the Chota Princess II, Riverkeeper’s 40-foot catamaran and departed Aqualand Marina, 6800 Light Ferry Road, prepared for a two-and-half hour ride through Lake Lanier Islands and Buford Dam.

For the first time, Sally Bethea, the CRK founding director, said the nonprofit environmental advocacy and educational organization used the catamaran for such an event.

“This boat is primarily used as our floating classroom, where we bring out 40 to 50 students and teachers on the lake for hands-on learning,” Bethea said.

As part of CRK’s new Watershed Outings programs, Bethea led the tour around the lake and informed passengers about its history, uses and water quality through an informal question-and-answer session.

CRK Technical Programs Director Jason Ulseth led a water monitoring activities session of the tour.

“I just want to get out on the water and learn something about the lake,” said Jennifer Eggers of Atlanta.

Other passengers who took the tour, like Laura Martin, wanted a water adventure with an educational twist.

“I have lived here all my life and I really don’t know that much about the lake at all,” Martin said. “I want to have a nice time, meet nice people and learn about the lake.”

After departing the marina, the catamaran cruised past Lake Lanier Islands and under its bridge before reaching Buford Dam.

After dropping anchor near the Dam, Bethea and Ulseth took turns describing the history and water quality and answered questions from passengers.

Before Congress approved the construction of Buford Dam in the 1940s, Bethea said this 38,000-acre lake that stretches 592 shoreline miles was once the home to nearly 700 families.

“As much as we love Lake Lanier, we have to think about how it was created over the years,” Bethea said.

A man asked about Gwinnett County’s approval in 2010 to discharge treated wastewater into the lake and the battle over the permit.

“The Lake Lanier Association and my organization challenged that permit as not being sufficiently protective in certain standards related to bacteria and phosphorous,” Bethea said. “It was long and protracted, but ultimately a more stringent permit was issued, and I think this shows the value of nonprofit organizations that help represent the public interest.”

In 1995, CRK sued the City of Atlanta for failing to regularly maintain the sewer system, which led to pollution in local streams and eventually the Chattahoochee River.

In an interview, former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin said it was because of this lawsuit “that it made everybody sit up and take notice.”

Some participants learned how to test water quality.

When testing the cleanliness of the water, Ulseth said they look for the amount of single-celled algae living in the water.

Algae can make the water very expensive and difficult to treat, Ulseth said.

“It can actually make the water have a bad taste coming out of the faucet if there is too much algae and chlorophyll growing in it,” he said.

One of the easiest ways to test this, Ulseth said, is to drop a Secchi disk, a standardized measurement of water clarity helps monitor changes that can affect production of fish and aquatic plants.

Ulseth handed the disk to a passenger and he watched it disappear into the water at about two-and-half meters or about eight feet.

A Gainesville couple said they were delighted by the tour.

“It was wonderful,” said Pat Valz.

For more on the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and programs, visit www.chattahoochee.org.

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