the upper altamaha initiative:
a framework for determining phosphorus limits for lake oconee
Christina Baker, Institute of Ecology; Deb Borden, Department of Ag. Engineering; Noèlle Gunst, Institute of Ecology; John Bryant, Department of Crop & Soil Sciences; Chris Seely, School of Law;
Janna Custer, School of Law.
Phosphorus is often a limiting nutrient in lake ecosystems; therefore, when phosphorus levels in a lake reach a certain point, algal blooms may result. Algal blooms usually cause a reduction in dissolved oxygen that then results in diminishing aquatic life. Eutrophication (nutrient loading sufficient enough to cause algal growth) in lakes can also be unsightly and can cause a foul odor. Excess loads of phosphorus come from runoff from agricultural fields, urban areas, golf courses and residential areas. It can also come from leaking septic systems.
Phosphorus may be on the verge of causing problems in Lake Oconee. The Upper Altamaha Initiative for Watershed Excellence has requested a memorandum assessing the issues surrounding eutrophication of Lake Oconee. The goals of this project are:
- To evaluate current levels of phosphorus in Lake Oconee by obtaining data from Georgia Power and the Environmental Protection Division, and to determine land use in the watershed using aerial photographs and by obtaining land use data from the Regional Development Centers of the area. This will help us determine the amount of phosphorus input from each land use type.
- To determine the economic and ecological impacts associated with phosphorus loading and options for preventing them. We will determine this by comparing land use data and water quality characteristics from Lake Oconee to other lakes in the Southeast that have had eutrophication problems. We will then compile a list of possible impacts and prevention measures associated with the other lakes.
- To determine the regulatory implications if phosphorus limits were mandated for Lake Oconee. We will investigate the following: who will be affected by imposed limits, will the permitted point sources have to decrease levels of input, how will non-point sources be regulated and is nutrient trading between point and non-point sources feasible.
- To present our findings to a stakeholder group that will be comprised of landowners, business owners, and members of Georgia Power, the EPD, and Lake Oconee Water Watch. We plan to discuss the state of the lake with regards to phosphorus, the ecological impacts of eutrophication, the regulatory implications for the stakeholders if limits were to be imposed, and some potential options for reducing phosphorus input.
- To develop an action plan that can be used to determine projects for upcoming semesters.
The information provided in our assessment can be used in the future to make decisions about phosphorus limits and methods of curbing phosphorus input. This project is also a part of the ongoing Upper Altamaha Initiative which seeks to protect the ecological integrity of the Oconee and Ocmulgee River Basins by working with stakeholders to reduce the impact of human activities on water quality and biodiversity.