By Tom Bennett
Special to Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition
BLAIRSVILLE, GA., October 25, 2016 – If you’re going to save a river on this globe from human neglect, you could choose no better than the Hiwassee.
If you prefer non-profit executive directors who are consistently helpful and non-confrontational rather than the take-no-prisoners type, you could choose no better than Callie Moore.
She didn’t start the non-profit Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition but did get it turned in the right direction after she was hired in 2003. Moore began a scientific database of records of sampling water quality with which to measure, take stock and achieve genuine reforms.
Moore has a Master’s degree in Water Resources from Indiana University and is also a graduate of Western Carolina University’s Environmental Health Program.
In a growing tradition, she presented her annual “State of the Water” address tonight at this far north Georgia county seat town, at the county’s Community Center.
“We don’t fight land-use activities,” Moore said. “We work with the developer or the contractor or the farmer to help them meet their goals, while using best management practices to protect water quality.”
Monthly volunteering occurs at 55 monitoring sites across 1,006 square miles of the watershed in two Georgia and two North Carolina counties. This work by Callie’s Army targets three harmful elements in water in this scenic and challenged part of the Appalachian Mountains. The three are excess sediment, pathogens (e.g., E.coli) and excess nutrients.
(Are even more volunteers needed for this work? A resounding “yes” is the answer. To join her volunteer army, call her, Tony Ward or Raleigh Keagan at 828-837-5414.)
“There’s too much runoff,” Moore continued. “In Florida, people build roads on flat places. Those same people come up here and they don’t really know how to build a road here. Some of the excess sediment we have is coming from the roads and the driveways that the landowners find impossible to maintain.”
THE KEY Hiwassee River watershed Georgia county-seat towns of Blairsville here in Union County and nearby Hiawassee (yes, a different spelling) in Towns County dot what is a stunning landscape. They are located amid a rolling blanket of blue-mountain peaks. This blanket of verdant high places rivals another above Linville Gorge located from Boone and Grandfather Mountain near Hickory, N.C. as my favorites here in the Appalachians.
Imagine the incongruity of polluted water amid such beauty!
Moore, Union Co. Farmers Market director Mickey Cummings, and Commissioner Lamar Paris of Union County are leading efforts to clean up Butternut Creek, which is a tributary of the Nottely River that itself is a major tributary of the Hiwassee River.
“Meeks Park (Union County’s impressive recreation venue of ball fields, hiking and cookout pavilions) is in the best shape of four Butternut Creek sites tested,” Moore said.
MEANWHILE, in Hiawassee and Towns County, city officials including Mayor Barbara Mathis and City Manager Richard Stancil, plus beloved retiring County Commissioner Bill Kendall, have worked in concert to take a significant step in Georgia mountain environmental history.
It isn’t required in Georgia Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources’ enforcement of EPA standards, but Towns and Hiawassee are now undertaking in their model wastewater treatment plant a volunteer effort to reduce nutrients. The necessary equipment upgrades have been made in the operations – which I’ve toured and found impressive.
The town funds HRWC to carry out testing at three sites in the Hiwassee River impoundment called Lake Chatuge – one of north Georgia’s great recreation lakes and ringed by vacation homes – and seven locations on streams upstream of the public drinking water supply intake in that same reservoir. To turn to HRWC for the testing is “a bargain,” said Stancil, who pointed out that hiring some independent consulting firm for the work would have been more expensive.
“It appears all locations (on the Hiwassee River and Lake Chatuge) are generally meeting the recreation water-quality standards,” Moore said.
Commissioner Kendall made some more state environmental history in his county this month.
He unveiled a marker atop Towns County’s Bell Mountain, where there is a rude mining gap at the very crest. By his official actions in an ordinance in January of this year, the 18 acres up there became permanently protected. They’re a Towns County park.
Three Murphy, N.C. men formed Hiawassee Stone Co. in 1963 to ream out the top of 3,420-foot Bell Knob (as it’s identified on U.S. Geological Survey topography maps) for commercial quartzite/silica.
The steep mountain immediately drains TVA’s stunningly scenic Lake Chatuge that spreads out below, a vulnerable and fragile wonder of the Blue Ridge.
The speculators proceeded without good economic and geological data. The very next year of 1964 saw a U.S. Dept. of Commerce study by a University of Ga. professor immediately concluding in his third paragraph on his first page that “a market does not exist for the Bell Mountain silica.”
What folly! What dreadful lack of cooperation — for Murphy, N.C. is another county-seat town on the same Hiwassee River. How much did the three lose? I wish I knew. (WATR column, Jan. 6, 2016)
AN EXCERPT from yet another WATR column, one that describes the lake’s beauty, is a part of that marker at 3,420 feet. It’s the highest point of publication that I reached in my years in journalism, which date to 1960. It takes me nearer to Heaven.
Tom Bennett of the Martins Creek community near Murphy, N.C., is a retired newsman, Hiwassee River Watershed Coalition member/volunteer and winner of the 2015 Holman Water Quality Stewardship Award. E-mail him at email@example.com