The South River Dam No. 4 is one of five dams in the state undergoing rehabilitation to make it safer, said Jeff Holloway, the state conservation engineer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.
The dam stands about a mile south of the intersection of Buford Carey and Adams Clarke roads and creates a private lake covering about 37 acres, Holloway said.
Property owners and contractors tried to capture the majority of the fish when they started draining the lake last week in preparation of making the dam stronger, he said.
"It's not our desire to harm the fish," Holloway said. "(But) in order to complete the work, you've got to get rid of the water."
At least two employees from the Georgia Soil and Water Conservation Commission will walk the creek today and pick up dead fish, said Bob Fulmer, the commission's rural water resources program manager.
"We're trying to get out there and get them picked up," Fulmer said.
Workers used a special tool called a seine net to catch many of the fish, but neighbors understandably were alarmed by the number that died and floated downstream, he said.
"I don't think that's a lot compared to what may come out of a 30-acre lake," he said.
Linda Johnson lives on Buford Carey Road and worried that the dead fish in the creek that runs through her 10 acres might attract coyotes or bears to her home, where she keeps horses, chickens, cats and dogs.
Johnson moved to Madison County about a year ago and wasn't aware of the pending improvements to the dam near her house - though she did ask about floodplains and other water-related concerns, she said.
"For me, the issue was, why didn't I get something in my mailbox?" she said.
Not all of the property owners downstream of the dam were notified, because no one thought so many fish would die and float downstream, Fulmer said.
"We did not expect that to be a problem," he said.
Georgia received stimulus funds to reinforce five dams: two in Madison County, two in Jackson County and one in Barrow County, Holloway said.
"We are rehabilitating these structures to get them into compliance," he said.
Most of the state's 357 dams were built 40 or more years ago, and several need work to continue holding back their water, he said.