Winston County water monitors get refreshed by AWW

by | Apr 26, 2009 | Alabama Water Watch, Uncategorized

Bill Deutsch, Sergio Ruiz-Cordova and Eric Reutebuch traveled from their Auburn University-AWW offices to interact with the Winston County Smith Lake Advocacy (WCSLA) water monitoring group last April 3rd. They met with five WCSLA monitors at Duncan Bridge on the Sipsey Fork of Lewis Smith Lake to recertify them in water chemistry monitoring. AWW citizen monitors must be recertified periodically as part of the AWW quality assurance plan, and to retain access to entering water data into the AWW statewide database.  The monitors have been actively monitoring at several locations on the west side of Smith Lake in Winston and Cullman counties.

 Click here for pictures of recert.

After the recertification, the group headed up to the Traders and Farmers Bank in Arley for a public meeting of the WCSLA membership organized by the group’s president, LaVerne Matheson.

Click here for pictures of the meeting

(photo credits: Joseph M. Orellano,
Northwest Alabamian)

LaVerne had done a good bit of publicity for the meeting, and had rallied a capacity crowd of over 50, including lake monitors and residents, as well as representatives from ADEM, the Bankhead National Forest, Extension, and the Alabama Rivers Alliance. Group members gave reports on the group’s finances, lake cleanups, water testing, the group’s involvement in the FAWN program, and water quality testing.

Then Bill began the AWW data interpretation presentation titled Water Quality Monitoring (and more) for the Protection of Smith Lake. He briefly went through an outline of the presentation, as follows:

  • AWW Program update
  •  Citizen water monitoring in the Black Warrior Basin
  •  Overview of WCSLA water sampling activities
  •  Lake water quality trends
  •  WCSLA water data – what good is it?
  •  Recommendations on future sampling and use of the data

Bill continued with an update on the AWW Program by presenting a list of Program milestones from 1992 (when AWW began) through 2009:

  •   255 citizen groups formed
  •   4,900 monitors certified
  •   1,950 sites monitored
  •   56,000 water quality records submitted to the AWW database
  •   40 active citizen trainers trained by AWW staff
  •   1,300 workshops conducted (~ 100 workshops/year)

 Bill showed monitors the new look for the AWW webpage at and the web gateway to viewing their data (and citizen data from all over Alabama) in graphic form on the web. He then showed a map of the numerous citizen groups, including 14 active groups, that are monitoring throughout the Black Warrior Basin. He then zoomed in to the Smith Lake Watershed and identified the five citizen monitoring groups currently monitoring lake and tributary stream sites, including WCSLA, Smith Lake Environmental Preservation Committee, Smith Lake Civic Association, Cullman County Soil and Water Conservation District, and Camp McDowell. He showed how sites have greatly increased since AWW published a waterbody report on the lake back in 2005. Since that time, the number of actively monitored sites has risen from 8 to 30, 14 of which are monitored by WCSLA.

Eric then focused on activities of WCSLA in the Smith Lake Watershed since their beginnings in 2007. He displayed the group’s stats from the AWW Water Data webpage, which indicated that the group was currently active at 14 monitoring sites and had amassed 183 water chemistry records in the two years since they began. Eric then showed a map of WCSLA monitoring sites, which extend from the Crooked Creek Embayment near the Cullman-Winston county line, westward on Rock Creek, Brushy Creek, Sipsey Fork, Clear Creek and Coon Creek embayments. He congratulated WCSLA on an excellent job of monitoring the previously unmonitored entire west side of the Smith Lake Watershed.

Eric displayed a table from the AWW database showing a list of Winston County folks who have dedicated their time and effort to become certified water monitors and protect the lake, including:

Shirley Parkhurst, Vesta Beatty, Linda Atkinson, Richard Atkinson, Tom Grubbs, Betty Denton, Judith Lambert, Warne Lambert, Dean Gillette, Bill Crunk, Bob Beatty, Ray Durham, Bob Parkhurst, Mary Ann Crunk, Paul Gillette, Larry Barkey, Jim Fisher Mike Akers, and Larry Welton

He then got into the data, first showing two graphs of WCSLA bacteria monitoring results on Crooked and Rock creeks (both of which had been listed by ADEM as impaired because of excess pathogens from animal feeding operations and pasture grazing). The WCSLA data did not show excess E. coli bacteria present, but was only a single sampling event on both creeks. Eric then showed a long-term graph of E. coli monitoring in Ryan Creek, which had been sampled from 2003 to the present by Bob Keefe with the Cullman County Soil and Water Conservation District. This graph clearly illustrates the value of long-term, consistent monthly monitoring – it showed that the site was relatively “clean” in the early years of sampling, but by late 2007 began to show signs of degradation with E. coli rising above the 600 per 100 mL of water (the level deemed unsafe for human contact by ADEM).

Eric then turned the focus to water chemistry monitoring, which currently comprises the vast majority of WCSLA’s sampling efforts. He first showed a 2-year graph of dissolved oxygen (DO) monitored by Dean and Paul Gillette at their site on Crooked Creek. The trend showed that water quality has improved during the monitoring period, and that DO has been consistently above the 5 ppm level mandated as a minimum for sustaining a healthy fish population and aquatic community. Eric then showed a decade-plus trend in DO measured by Jim Beason and John Kulbitskas of Smith Lake Civic Association from their site at Duncan Bridge. This trend tended in the other direction, indicating a decline in water quality measured by DO levels over an 11 year period, with frequent summer-time dips below the 5 ppm mark (though this probably won’t kill any fish outright, it will contribute to poorer growth, reproduction and overall health of fish populations). Eric then showed an aerial image of the Duncan Bridge area, complements of Google Earth. One could see several disturbed areas around the lake’s shoreline where developments were springing up, and the affect on the lake’s waters which appeared a turbid green-brown.  Eric said that water quality is directly related to activities on the adjacent landscape of the watershed, as illustrated at Duncan Bridge.

Eric concluded with a snapshot of water quality for the entire lake based on more than 2,000 citizen-monitor water quality records (1,916 water chemistry and 114 bacteria records as of 11/2008). The whole-lake snapshot showed that the Clear Creek, Brushy Creek and Sipsey Fork arms of the lake in Winston County, the Simpson Creek arm and dam forebay appear “pretty darn clean” with good water quality. Water quality problem areas appeared in the Ryan Creek, Crooked Creek and Rock Creek arms of the lake, which have all had occasional unsafe levels of E. coli in their waters, along with occasions of low DO measured in Crooked Creek. Eric encouraged the WCSLA monitors to keep up their monitoring efforts to determine if these areas’ water quality is getting better or worse in the coming years.

Bill continued the presentation with a couple of water data quality-assurance tips, a discussion on use of their ever-growing water quality data, and recommendations on future sampling efforts. Bill encouraged monitors to look at their data graphically using the web tools that Sergio has created to catch errors in data entry. He then discussed the three uses of citizen-generated water data: environmental education, waterbody protection/restoration, and advocacy or affecting water policy. He pointed out that WCSLA has been very active in the first two areas via educating hundreds of Winston County students through participation in the Forestry Awareness Week Now (FAWN) program; and by removing tons of trash from Smith Lake during the annual Renew Our Rivers cleanups.

Bill then encouraged the group to consider drafting a watershed management plan for the Smith Lake Watershed, or certain tributary creeks in the watershed. He said that once a plan which contains critical elements required by the EPA is drafted, the group could apply for 319 monies from ADEM to implement on-the-ground project and best management practices that would reduce pollutants flowing into the lake. He also recommended that group members consider attending the 5th Annual State of Our Watershed Conference – the Tallapoosa Basin on May 13th-14th to learn more about creating and implementing a watershed management plan, and exploring the formation of a watershed management authority. He closed with some recommendations on sampling and future sample site selection, encouraging all lake monitors to do Secchi disk readings when they sample water chemistry because Secchi readings are very important in determining the health and water quality of lakes. He recommended considering sampling in the flowing section of tributary streams before they empty into the lake, since water quality problems can be detected at these sites well before detection on down in the lake.

He finished with a slide telling all how to contact AWW, and that the AWW Program office is there to support WCSLA as they continue monitoring and protecting the waters of Smith Lake.



Auburn University Water Resources Center
ALFA Agricultural Services and Research Building
961 S Donahue Drive
Auburn, AL 36840