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Riverkeepers alarmed at fish kills in state’s Kaolin Belt

POSTED: November 1, 2011 11:29 a.m.

A pair of recent fish kills in Middle Georgia’s kaolin-mining belt have the Savannah Riverkeeper and Altamaha Riverkeeper organizations concerned over state authorities’ management and oversight of industrial wastewater permits at kaolin-processing facilities.

Savannah Riverkeeper (SRK) responded in mid-October to a developing fish kill on Brier Creek near Keysville in northern Burke County, just south of Augusta. Brier Creek is a large tributary to the Savannah River.

Landowners on and around Brier Creek noticed the black water creek turning a milk-chocolate color Oct. 13, and the creek started to clear Oct. 14. That Saturday, residents noticed that fish had begun to die. The full-spectrum kill includes small to large fish of many species, with the number of dead fish counted near 10,000. “The biggest concern I had was the changing of the color,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, executive director of Savannah Riverkeeper. “That’s a serious shift to have something put in to settle all that stuff out.”

The City of Waynesboro, which pulls its drinking water from Brier Creek, had not been notified of the fish kill by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). Waynesboro has since shut down its water intakes, but not until two days after the fish kill was reported to Georgia EPD.

“Part of the problem that we’ve run into with this fish kill, which is very similar to the Ogeechee fish kill, is the failure to notify the public and let them know what’s going on,” Bonitatibus said.

Georgia’s largest-ever fish kill occurred in May 2011 on the Ogeechee River; inspectors only later discovered an unpermitted wastewater discharge to the Ogeechee at King America Finishing’s textile manufacturing plant in Screven County.

In the last days of September, Altamaha Riverkeeper (ARK) investigated a fish kill that began Sept. 28 on Commissioner Creek and its tributary Little Commissioner Creek in central Wilkinson County, east of Macon. This fish kill also affected several thousand fish of various species, sizes and ages throughout many miles of the two streams, from above McIntyre to below Toomsboro. In addition, the water turned an unnatural blue-green color.

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