For the second straight year, people are being warned to stay out of the Ogeechee River during Memorial Day weekend.
Ogeechee River landings in Bulloch County are closed for fishing and swimming until further notice. The advisory was prompted by about a dozen dead fish appearing in the river recently, just a year after a major fish kill occurred, Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn said.
People began calling Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp earlier this week with reports of finding dead fish along the U.S. 301 and Ga. 24 (Oliver) landings. Wedincamp immediately called the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to report the discovery.
Water levels are more than twice as low as last year, when 38,000 fish died from columnaris, a bacterial disease caused by environmental stress, she said.
Also, high levels of formaldehyde and ammonia, as well as color from dyes are “fairly similar to last year,” she said.
A textiles plant, King America Finishing, located upriver from the U.S. 301 landing, discharges wastewater into the river, and the effluent contains those chemicals as well as dyes. King America Finishing was found to have violated discharge permits last year, and the EPD issued a consent order demanding the company pay for $1 million in river improvements.
The Ogeechee Riverkeeper organization filed an appeal to the consent order, and a hearing is pending.
King America’s attorney, Lee Dehihns, said EPD officials investigated the plant Thursday and found no violations.
“We have been in communication with EPD and they have reviewed our effluent data. We are in full compliance. … Everything at the plant is working fine, and no one has told us we are doing anything wrong,” he said.
Tim Barrett, Region 5 supervisor for Department of Natural Resources fisheries, said DNR agents tested the waters Wednesday and Thursday, collected dead fish and noted others were dying.
Fish will be collected from sites north of the King America discharge pipe to compare with fish collected south of the pipe, he said.
“They collected a few dead fish, about a dozen, all fairly small,” EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers said. “The fish are on the way to Auburn University for analysis.”
The university also conducted testing after the May 2011 fish kill, he said.
Chambers said there were no reports of violations at the plant Thursday.
“There was nothing obvious there,” he said.
Above-average temperatures and lower water levels certainly have an influence on the environment as well, Chambers said.
Wedincamp disagreed that low water levels and higher temperatures alone would cause dying fish.
“We have been telling people they shouldn’t swim or eat fish from the river since last year,” she said. “I’m glad (Bulloch County officials) are taking a stand and doing this. Good for them. Unfortunately, people won’t be able to use the river again this Memorial Day weekend.”
Barrett said further testing will be conducted today, it is likely to be several days before test results are available.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.