Volunteers keep watch

Chris Thelen/Staff
Alex Brown, a volunteer with Savannah Riverkeeper, examines sediment levels in a sample he collected from Rae's Creek.

Ever wanted to be a spy? Savannah Riverkeeper might need your help.

The environmental group is training volunteers to recognize and report some of the state's most serious pollution problems: erosion and sedimentation of streams.

"The recent rains have made it abundantly clear that sedimentation and runoff from construction sites is a very real problem in Augusta and the surrounding area," said Tonya Bonitatibus, the group's operations director.

Last week, volunteers canvassed streams and lakes to see how well builders and others involved in land-disturbing activity followed erosion control laws.

"We found problems everywhere," Ms. Bonitatibus said. "Lake Olmstead looked like a mud pit."

Georgia's Environmental Protection Division and inspectors in Richmond and Columbia counties routinely examine erosion barriers at construction sites, she said, but they are often understaffed.

Under the "Get the Dirt Out" program in Augusta, trained volunteers can offer their eyes and ears to educate the public and report problems, she said.

"Last year it was a pilot program funded by EPA to Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper and now it's spreading throughout the state as an actual project," Ms. Bonitatibus said.

So far, a dozen volunteers have become certified to recognize and report problems, she said. Additional training sessions will begin Jan. 19.

In addition to learning how to recognize violations, volunteers will sample streams and lakes to help gauge changes in turbidity and water quality.

"From what we've seen so far it's obvious there are serious problems in a lot of places," she said. "Part of our goal will be to make sure BMP (best management practices) are followed at construction sites."

"Sedimentation is such a preventable problem, and one that has such negative effects on our waterways, not to mention the people that live along them," she said.

Reach Rob Pavey (706) at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.

HOW TO GET INVOLVED

A training session for Get the Dirt Out volunteers will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 19 at the Savannah Riverkeeper office, 103 Riverfront Drive, Augusta.

Volunteers will learn about erosion and sedimentation laws and how to spot and report violations. For details, call (706) 755-4839.