Recognizing recreation on the Chattahoochee
Thanks to large investments by the city and people of Atlanta, the Chattahoochee River downstream of Atlanta is dramatically cleaner than it was two decades ago. Once severely polluted, the stretch of river from Atlanta’s Peachtree Creek down to West Point Lake has dramatically rebounded and riverside communities have taken advantage. Each year, hundreds of people fish, paddle and wade in this part of the river, and additional initiatives to improve river access are underway. Despite this resurgence in river recreation, the state of Georgia still holds most of this 76-mile section of the Chattahoochee to its lowest protective standard for water quality.
Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has been working to change that, and the good news is that the process is straightforward. It comes down to having Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division update the “designated use” for this part of the river. EPD uses designated use categories to set limits on the wastewater released into different parts of our rivers. A river section with a designated use of “recreation” gets better protection than a section designated for “fishing.” Most of the Chattahoochee between Atlanta and West Point Lake is categorized under the less protective category. EPD claims that not enough people spend time on Chattahoochee downstream of Atlanta to merit updating the designated use of this section, but CRK has found otherwise.
In 2018, CRK appealed to EPD to update the designated use of this section of the river to “recreation.” We documented more than 1,800 paddlers on this river section from 89 trips led by multiple organizations. We provided EPD with more than 500 signatures and comments from residents who described their experiences swimming, paddling and fishing on this part of the river. Fortunately, EPD took a step in the right direction, changing the designation for 13 river miles near Chattahoochee Bend State Park to the more protective “recreation” standard, leaving just 63 miles to go.
The remaining river miles flow past Cobb, Fulton, Coweta and Heard counties, and the residents of these counties deserve the same protection for their river to fish, swim and play in. If you agree, you can add your name to our request at Chattahoochee.org/EPDPetition. If you live in one of these counties, ask your local elected officials and representatives to request that EPD designate the entire Chattahoochee between Atlanta and West Point Lake for its current use as recreation.
Henry Jacobs is the Chattahoochee Riverkeeper middle Chattahoochee outreach coordinator