A public hearing was held at the end of January seeking comments from citizens and discussing the research behind the proposals. A handful of guests attended the meeting held at Cartersville City Hall, some of whom were deeply concerned with the loosening of standards.
Georgia EPD Program Manager of Watershed Planning and Monitoring Elizabeth Booth, however, presented findings in the department report suggesting standard revisions associated with the EPD's tri-annual review be implemented.
Proposed amendments affecting Lake Allatoona include changing two chlorophyll standards, a total phosphorous standard at one tributary and total nitrogen standards for the entire lake.
Booth explained that the original standards and the proposed amendments were based on computer models taking set factors into account to estimate the effect of certain levels of nutrients and differing levels of flow. These models are guided by historical data, it was a lack of data when originally setting standards which has led to unrealistic expectations, said Booth.
"What we found was that we probably set some of these standards too tight. Standards were set back in 1999 on some data that we had. For Chlorophyll, I think it was two and half years, we've now been collecting data for 10 years," Booth said.
With these extra years of data, Booth added that changes in the environment have occurred and the decade of information their amendments are based on will allow for realistic and achievable standards.
The increase in nutrient levels did provoke a response from some concerned citizens including Cherokee County resident Marilyn Stapleton. Although unable to attend the hearing, her comments were read aloud and recorded.
"These revisions are a step backwards for Georgia EPD," Stapleton stated. "We can only expect more problems if Georgia EPD allows higher phosphorous levels in Shoal Creek. ... It does not make sense to raise standards in the upper Etowah because Shoal Creek exceeded standards."
Booth spoke to the concern for Shoal Creek by explaining the models that were run to help determine a nutrient's Total Maximum Daily Load. By running various programs, the modeling showed that even under fictitious scenarios where the urban load was reduced below what it currently is, TMDL standards could not be met.
"If you change your land use, put any urban in there, where you have an impervious surface like a driveway or a house, you will increase your load. Without even increasing the concentration of what you have there you're going to increase your load there because you increase the flow. Based on that information, knowing that even with the reductions, we couldn't meet the TMDL -- we realized that maybe we set that level too tight," Booth said.
Amendment for total nitrogen in the lake deals with an update in standards due to testing which has shown the lake to be phosphorous limited, not nitrogen limited. The proposed amendment then alters standards to ease requirements for a nutrient that is not predominately affecting algae growth. The nitrogen levels are proposed to change from a not-to-exceed standard of 4mg per liter to not-to-exceed an algae growing season average of 4 mg per liter.
Other proposed amendments not restricted to Lake Allatoona are updates to water use designations for lakes throughout the state and the clarification of shellfish standards.
Public comment on these topics may be submitted until Feb. 9. To submit a comment on proposed amendments call 404-657-4957. Comments may also be made by e-mail or regular mail; contact the Ga. EPD for official addresses.