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Assessing Local Fish Populations Indicates Water Quality

News Editor

Photo courtesy of Stephen Bontekoe – Ani Escobar (back left) with Georgia DNR and Bailey Lands (back center) with Limestone Valley RC&D oversee Dalton State students as they count fish in Gulf Creek in Rising Fawn.

Five students from Dalton State College and a biologist with Georgia DNR joined Limestone Valley RC&D to sample fish from two streams in Dade County as part of the state’s system to assess water quality.

Bailey Lands, a graduate student at Clemson University, is interning at Limestone Valley and working alongside Stephen Bontekoe, executive director, on this project as well as testing or E. Coli. Lands’ position is funded by the state’s Clean Water Act grant.

On September 22, the team headed out to Iron Root Pastures in Rising Fawn where the owners gave them access to Gulf Creek. This tributary to Lookout Creek had been tested before, so the new count could be compared to previous numbers. At this location, the team found 23 species of fish.

The second location was next to the UGA Extension Office at Dade Middle School. Here, the team found ten species of fish in Town Creek. A nearby tributary to Town Creek has been tested before.

Both creeks are on a state list of streams that may need improvement. In Bontekoe’s words, “It doesn’t mean that the water’s not safe, but there’s something there indicating a need for improvement. These creeks were listed because there were fewer species found in them than what was anticipated. We’re using the fish as an indicator of the health of the stream.”

He reported that indicators such as a low number of fish species prompt biologists to ask questions. “The lack of fish begs the question, why are there fewer fish here? Is it because of sediment? Is there a culvert that’s blocking fish passage? Is there too much storm water run-off or a lack of trees causing the water to be too warm for the fish to survive? While counting the fish doesn’t answer the question, it lets us know when we need to keep testing.”

Lands will plug the data collected into a system that generates a score for each different ecoregion. If Dade’s creek’s earn a positive score, state biologists will assess if they can come off the list.

Bontekoe concluded, “Especially in Dade County where our drinking water comes out of the creek, water quality impacts all of us. If we can improve the water quality for the fish, we can improve the quality for the rest of us who use it and for the wildlife that use it.”

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