The health of the rivers of the Coosa Valley
By PAUL DIPRIMA – Rome News-Tribune
Rome, Georgia, might have never been founded if it were not for the fact that the Etowah and the Oostanaula rivers join together to form the Coosa River.
The relatively flat area at the confluence was perfect for farming and the nearby rolling hills had abundant forests for building homes. The rivers were teaming with fish and were unpolluted. This was a place where for many hundreds of years Native Americans had villages from time to time. A group of settlers felt the area where rivers meet would be a great place to establish a town. Rome was born.
Many of the people in Rome enjoy the rivers for recreational activities, fishing, boating and paddle boarding. Factories, farmers and the city itself withdraw water from these rivers. The rivers are necessary for the people and the city to exist. Yet, many people take the rivers for granted and some abuse the rivers.
Why are the rivers here and where do they come from? I will try and explain, but will focus only from where the Coosa begins and the area upstream.
A line of mountain ridges encircle the Coosa Valley. Water flows downhill. To the northeast, the small streams near Dahlonega and Dawsonville come together to form the Etowah River and Amicalola Creek. To the north, small streams in Gilmer County form the Cartecay and Ellijay rivers that join together to form the Coosawattee River. In Murray and Fannin counties there is the Cohutta Wilderness Area where the Conasauga and Jacks Rivers are formed. The Jacks River joins and doubles the size of the Conasauga River near the Tennessee state line. The Conasauga River meanders across into Tennessee several times before returning to Georgia, where it eventually joins the Coosawattee in Calhoun to form the Oostanaula River — which joins the Etowah in Rome.
In the most mountainous areas, almost all these streams originate on national forest land and are cold, crystal clear trout streams so pristine that they often have natural reproducing populations of trout. Trout streams have a higher level of protection than most other streams within the state and the water quality is usually superb.
After the rivers and larger creeks leave the mountains, the waters change and begin to be less clear and warmer. There was almost no pollution entering the rivers before the arrival of the Europeans, and all was in a natural balance. Things began to change beginning in the 1800s.
The population of the Coosa Valley grew and the cities and small towns would dispose of their bodily waste and factory byproducts into the rivers and creeks. Farm fields were also sources of runoff silt and fertilizer. The belief of many was that “dilution was the solution to pollution.”
After years of abuse, some rivers across the United States had fish kills and the water was no longer safe for human consumption. An extreme case was Cleveland, Ohio, where in 1969 the Cuyahoga River burned. That was the 13th time the river had caught fire.
On Oct. 18, we can celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. This action by the U.S. government was a savior of many rivers and the people who use them. The rivers of the nation are much safer now.
Even with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act, the folks in Rome as well as other cities are still faced with pollution problems. Contaminants have been getting into our rivers for years. Polychlorinated biphenyls are still found in fish in the Coosa basin. Fish consumption advisories are in place to protect people in our area from consuming PCBs.
Now a new problem exists and water is no longer withdrawn from the Oostanaula in Rome. New contaminants, called “forever chemicals” are in the Oostanaula. PFAS are a group of manmade chemicals used in a vast number of consumer and industrial products. Most of them don’t break down and are considered a health hazard. The people of Rome and Floyd County will pay almost $100 million to make the water from the Oostanaula safe to drink.
No matter your political preference, please contact your congressman and make sure that he or she helps to keep the EPA strong and see that the Clean Water Act is strengthened and not weakened. We need healthy rivers, not only in Rome, but all rivers need to become healthy and made better, not worse.
The next meeting of the Coosa Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited will be Thursday, Oct. 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Rome Floyd ECO Center. We will have a very entertaining and informative guest speaker. The president of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, Mike Worley, will let us know that the GWF is for all who love the out of doors. If you are a hiker, camper, birder, fisherman or hunter, the GWF is working for what we all love. The public is invited.