Volunteer monitors and Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Inc. spearhead upgrade to the Choctawhatchee River

ADEM recently reclassified all of the East Fork of the Choctawhatchee River, all but about 1 mile of the West Fork of the Choctawhatchee River, and all but an approximately 3 mile stretch of the Choctawhatchee River to Fish and Wildlife and Swimming and Other Whole Body Water-Contact Sports. These waters previously were all classified as Fish and Wildlife only. The upgrade on the West Fork of the Choctawhatchee River extended a reach reclassified for Swimming about one-half (1/2) mile further upstream than originally proposed, to include a heavy use recreational area.

Falls on the West Fork of the Choctawhatchee

Click here for map of upgraded river sections

The upgrade in classification tightens water quality standards for these river sections relative to E. coli bacteria contamination from a maximum allowable single sample level of 2,507 colonies per 100 milliliters (mL) and a geometric mean of 548 colonies per 100 mL of water, to a maximum of 235 bacteria per 100 mL of water for a single sample and a geometric mean of 126 colonies per mL water (levels are calculated as a geometric mean of at least five samples taken over a 30-day period). In simpler terms, the use upgrades in the Choctawhatchee River Watershed now recognize the swimming use all year instead of just during the summer months, which were adressed under the Fish and Wildlife use classification’s seasonal swimming use (June through September) protections.

 Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Inc. utilized documentation of recreational use and all available water quality data including AWW E. coli data dating back to 1996 in its request to upgrade parts of the East and West Forks of the Choctawhatchee River with the Swimming classification. The water quality data consisted of bacteria monitoring results (E. coli data) from 1996 through the present (261 tests have been done at 100 different sites by the Coastal Plain Streams Water Watch). Citizen volunteer monitors, who have been trained and certified by Alabama Water Watch (AWW), test for E. coli using the AWW Bacteriological Monitoring Protocol. 

Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper will collect additional samples and document recreational use at other sites where it knows that there is significant recreational use, including sites on the Little Choctawhatchee River, Whitewater Creek and Big Creek in order to work for reclassification of portions of those waterbodies to include swimming during the upcoming swimming season. Efforts are underway to seek funding for testing supplies for this effort. ADEM has already indicated that it will consider upgrading the lower portion of the Little Choctawhatchee River when a review of available data is completed.

Choctawhatchee Riverkeeper, Inc. wishes to express its thanks to Mr. Lynn Sisk, Chief of the Water Quality Division of ADEM, and ADEM for its willingness to modify the proposed listing to provide increased protection for the heavy use area at the falls on the West Fork of the Choctawhatchee River upstream of Highway 27.