Enthusiasm for Smith Lake Grows at Alabama Water Watch’s 12th Annual State of the Lake Address 

A group of over fifty Smith Lake residents gathered at Dodge City on the east side of Lewis Smith Lake in Cullman County for the12th Annual State of the Lake Address. Alabama Water Watch staffers have been invited by Smith Lake Environmental Preservation Committee President, Debbie Berry, since 1997 for the annual event.

Bill Deutsch, AWW Program Director, began the State of the Lake Address with an update of AWW Program activities. He presented a list of stats on the Program, indicating that AWW has trained and certified about 4,900 citizen volunteer water monitors who have tested nearly 2,000 sites around the state and contributed 55,000 water quality records to the AWW statewide database. Bill briefly touched on half a dozen other projects that AWW is currently involved with, including Global Water Watch, the Tallapoosa Watershed Project, the Saugahatchee Watershed Management Plan, Exploring Alabama’s Living Streams Curriculum Training, an EPA project- Fostering Environmental Stewardship of the Gulf of Mexico, and a USGS-WRRI Livestock Producers Training. Bill said that he had just trained a group of Winston County producers the day before, who were eager to learn how to monitor on-farm bacteria levels in streams and ponds.

 Bill continued by identifying the five volunteer citizen groups that currently monitor water quality in the Smith Lake Watershed: Smith Lake Civic Association (SLCA), Camp McDowell (CM) and Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy (WCSLA) on the west side of the lake; and Cullman County SWCD (CULCO) and Smith Lake Environmental Preservation Committee (SLEPC) on the east side of the lake. 

Bill tallied the cumulative decade-plus volunteer monitoring effort on the lake – nearly 1,400 water quality data records at 52 sites (currently, 24 are active sites). He commended the group for their ongoing commitment to environmental protection and preservation.

Eric continued the program by presenting citizen monitor data trends on three tributary streams of the lake and three lake sites. All three of the streams had water quality problems at times. Crooked Creek had low dissolved oxygen levels, particularly during the 2007 drought. Blevins Creek (a tributary of Rock Creek) and Ryan Creek both had high E. coli concentrations at times. Bob Keefe, CULCO monitor extraordinaire (recipient of the AWW Monitor of the Year Award for most total data records submitted, 311 records in 2007) added that high E. coli counts coincided with significant rainfall events that flushed livestock and poultry waste into the streams. Eric indicated that Ryan Creek had been added to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management 2008 list of impaired streams, the 303(d) list, because of the presence of pathogens.

Eric then shifted to lake sites, starting with SLCA site #5 above Smith Lake Dam. A seven-year trend in Secchi Disk visibility measured by SLCA monitors Charles Boyd and Mack Gross showed that lake clarity has increased in recent years to 4-5 meters (about 15 feet), indicative of a very clean lake. Citizen data from two other lake sites, one on the Sipsey Fork, monitored by WCSLA volunteers Larry Barkey and Burt Jones, and one on Simpson Creek Embayment, monitored by Debbie and Bob Berry, also indicated good water quality associated with a clean lake. Eric summarized water quality of the whole Smith Lake Watershed as ‘pretty darn clean’ in the lake, with problems (bacteria and low dissolved oxygen) in some of the tributary streams.

Eric continued by touching on three watershed stewardship knowledge-to-action strategies that Smith Lake citizen groups have been engaged in, and new activities they might consider. All three strategies build on the decade-plus of volunteer water quality monitoring that the Smith Lake groups have been conducting across the watershed. Group activities in environmental education, the first stewardship strategy, have included SLEPC’s seasonal newsletter, WCSLA’s participation in the Winston County FAWN (Forestry Awareness Week Now) environmental education program, and Camp McDowell sponsoring teacher-training in the AWW Exploring Alabama’s Living Streams curriculum. Protection-Restoration activities, the second stewardship strategy, have included years of lake clean-ups by SLEPC, SLCA and recently by WCSLA, during which several million pounds of trash (mostly old Styrofoam floats from docks) have been removed from the lake.

Eric encouraged the groups to continue pursuit of a Watershed Management Plan for protection/restoration of the lake, stressing that once a plan was drafted by local stakeholders, they could apply to ADEM for funding on-the-ground projects to improve lake water quality. Eric introduced the concept of a Watershed Management Authority (WMA) as an example of advocacy, the third stewardship strategy. He said that there has been a lot of interest and discussion about the development of WMAs in Alabama at meetings of the Permanent Joint Legislative Committee on Water Policy and Management. He stressed that the main benefits of formation of a local WMA are 1) more control of management of a watershed by local stakeholders, and 2) ability to manage on a watershed basis (instead of a town, city or county basis).

In closing, Eric presented a Smith Lake map marked with suggestions for key new sample sites on tributaries and their embayments that newly-trained monitors might consider testing. He said that tributaries act like the ‘canary-in-the-coalmine’ since monitors will detect pollutants there before they are detectable downstream in the main lake. He commended the eight new monitors – Dyana McKee, Deniece Hand, Donna Dunn, Ronald Baniel, Debby Barrett, Stephen Morros, Susan Stark and Lynn Martin; and the five veteran monitors – Bob Berry, Deb Berry, Mark Butler, John Kulbitskas and Katherine Butler, who were certified/recertified at the Berry residence on Simpson Creek Embayment the day before (by Sergio Ruiz-Cordova and Eric). He stressed that it would be through their efforts that long-term water quality data trends might continue to reveal the answer to the question ‘Is my water quality getting better, or is it getting worse’.

At the end of the presentation, Deb Berry, SLEPC President, thanked AWW for its continued support of citizen monitoring on Smith Lake, and presented Bill with a generous gift of a $500 to the AWW Program. On the road back to Auburn, the AWW staffers marveled over the renewed dedication of the citizen volunteers in the Smith Lake Watershed and their strong commitment to keeping their lake one of the cleanest in the Southeast. Click Here to see the whole presentation – 2008Smith SOLA