Alabama Water Watch Program staff, Bill Deutsch (Program Director), Eric Reutebuch and Jayme Oates, and Auburn University staff, Mike Kensler (Outreach Programs Administrator) traveled to Lake Martin to present a “State of the Lake” program during the Lake Watch of Lake Martin (LWLM) 17th annual meeting at the Elks Lodge in Alexander City on Oct. 25. About 40 LWLM members attended the meeting. Bill Deutsch began the presentation by reminding all present that the battle over water among Georgia, Florida and Alabama rages on, and has direct implications for the waters of Lake Martin. He then commended the Bronsons, Dick and Mary Ann, for their leadership and dedication to Lake Watch and to the lake over the past two decades. Dick has served as the group’s President since 1991. Lake Watch is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that conducts monthly water quality monitoring at several sites on Lake Martin, along with lake clean ups, environmental education and advocacy.
Eric Reutebuch then gave a brief overview of the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s (ADEM’s) assessment of Lake Martin. He pointed out that in ADEM’s most recent Report to Congress, Martin was identified as the lake with the lowest trophic state index (TSI), thus, the cleanest lake in the state (see www.adem.state.al.us/WaterDivision/WQuality/305b/WQ305bReport.htm). TSI is a gauge that quantifies lake pollution or enrichment on a scale from zero to 100 – the higher the value, the more polluted or enriched a lake is. Lake Martin falls in the ‘oligotrophic’ range of the TSI scale, which is characterized by clear, clean waters exhibiting low biological productivity; the same rating that Martin exhibited 20 years earlier in a 1989 AU study by Dr. David Bayne*. Eric noted that the recent ADEM assessment was based on 2007 water quality data collected near the dam.
Eric then discussed the ranking of LWLM relative to the other 17 AWW-certified citizen monitoring groups in the Tallapoosa River Basin. Based on water quality data collected and submitted to the AWW statewide database, LWLM ranks first in water chemistry data, and third in total water quality data (including water chemistry and bacteriological data) in the basin. The group currently has seven active water monitoring sites on the lake (see https://fp.auburn.edu/icaae/Groupsmap.aspx?dg=0&png=1&ChartID=0&WID=07 and click the green dot on the Lake Martin). A query of the LWLM water data indicated that seven of their sites have continuous monthly monitoring water quality records for more than a decade! A comparison of citizen data to ADEM data over the past five years indicated that ADEM sampled 123 times (dates sampled x stations sampled per date) while LWLM sampled 349 times, approximately three times more than ADEM. This comparison highlights one of the several advantages of citizen volunteer monitoring by certified monitors – a committed local group tends to monitor much more regularly (usually monthly throughout the year) for a longer period of time, and at more sites than a state agency , in this case ADEM, does.
Eric continued by featuring long-term trend data from two of the LWLM monitoring sites. The first, Larry Locke’s site # 07001010 in Elkahatchee Creek Embayment, has been sampled continuously every month since July of 1996 (161 months). Eric showed that Mr. Locke’s long-term data monitoring indicates a steady decline in dissolved oxygen over the last several years, evident by the descending trend line the data produces. This was a surprise to both Bill and Eric, who assumed that water quality, and therefore, dissolved oxygen concentrations, would steadily improve in Elkahatchee Creek Embayment since the Alexander City wastewater treatment plant outfall was diverted from the Sugar/Elkahatchee Creek Drainage out into the mainstem of Lake Martin several years earlier, in June of 2001. Eric pointed out that the LWLM dataset is the only information available that has documented this unexpected trend, which deserves further investigation.
Eric featured a second long-term trend from LWLM site # 07001003, Lake Martin at Bay Pine Island. This is LWLM’s oldest site, monitored monthly for the past 196 months since June of 1993 by the group’s President, Dick Bronson. He showed that Mr. Bronson’s dissolved oxygen readings have never dropped below the state-mandated minimum value of 5 ppm, the minimum amount required to maintain a healthy fish population. This impressive 16-year trend (along with a suite of additional parameters measured by Mr. Bronson) indicates that this portion of Lake Martin is in good shape.
Eric concluded with brief mention of two lake studies, the Tallapoosa Watershed Project and the ongoing 2009 APCo Lake Martin Water Quality Study, that LWLM has played an integral role in. LWLM not only aided in drafting the two studies, but has also actively participated in the research and outreach components of the studies. These and other Lake Martin studies have yielded a long-term trend graph of the lake’s TSI measurements dating back to 1989 which shows that although the TSI in the upper lake (measured at the Highway 280 bridge) had risen dramatically through the 1990s into the ‘low-eutrophic’ TSI zone, the values have stabilized since then at around 50. Mr. Bronson added that this graph indicates the bipolar nature of current conditions of the lake – the more polluted ‘eutrophic’ upper lake versus the nearly-pristine ‘oligotrophic’ lower lake. Lastly, Eric then acknowledged LWLM’s role in the success and evolution of the Annual Tallapoosa Watershed Conference, a product of the Tallapoosa Watershed Project that garnered attention from USDA-CSREES (project funder) as one of their National Water Program success stories (see www.usawaterquality.org/themes/npm/success).
Mike Kensler concluded the program with a series of slides showing the rapid development in Alabama based on the decadal increase in housing density from 1940 through density projected for 2030. Mike’s point was that development/urban-suburban expansion is coming, and it is up to the current generation to guide and shape the course of this expansion to determine what Lake Martin, and the rest of the state, will look like in 2030. Jayme Oates added that in the course of several follow-up meetings with a variety of stakeholder groups in the Lake Martin Watershed, that she and Mike have experienced a lot of interest and support for advancing watershed management in the Tallapoosa Basin to protect the quality of Lake Martin’s waters, the theme of the 2009 Tallapoosa Watershed Conference (see http://blog.auburn.edu/twp/?p=81). Mr. Bronson concluded the meeting by reporting that LWLM is pursuing a special designation/recognition from ADEM to aid in protecting the Jewel of the Tallapoosa – Lake Martin.
*Bayne, D. R., W. C. Seesock and L. D. Benefield. 1989. Water Quality Assessment, Alabama Public Lakes 1989. Alabama Department of Environmental Management, Montgomery, AL. 178 pp.