A final report on research launched more than four years ago into factors affecting the health of the Ogeechee River is due out next week.
When Georgia Southern University’s biology department, its geology and geography department and the independent nonprofit Phinizy Center for Water Sciences held an initial public information meeting in August 2014, their study was expected to last two and a half years. Researchers are slated to summarize final results and answer questions during a public info session at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room 1109 of Georgia Southern’s Biological Sciences Building, 4324 Old Register Road in Statesboro.
A record die-off of an estimated 38,000 fish downriver from what was then the King America Finishing plant in May 2011, nearly eight years ago, spurred the research. After buying the textile finishing plant, which is in Screven County, Milliken & Co. became the announced source of more than $1 million in research funding under King America’s 2013 consent decree with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
Results of such a wide-ranging study would have taken time to compile into a single report, said Damon Mullis, executive director of Ogeechee Riverkeeper.
“It’s kind of a big, broad-scale, kind of long-term-looking ecological study, and a lot of it’s focused around determining critical parameters or data that needed to be collected to prevent or identify issues that might cause another fish kill or something like that,” he said.
Also himself officially “the riverkeeper,” Mullis arrived on the job with the nonprofit organization devoted to protecting the Ogeechee in November, but he previously did research with the Phinizy Center for Water Sciences, which is based at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park near downtown Augusta. He attained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology at Georgia Southern.
While with the Phinizy Center, Mullis did some of the in-stream water quality monitoring on the Ogeechee. He does not have detailed knowledge of other aspects of the research and had not read the final report, but is eager to do so, he indicated Thursday. Done using remote telemetry, the water quality monitoring tracked oxygen levels, pH and conductivity at several sites, and the center’s researchers also did chemical analysis for nutrient levels.
A ‘fragile system’
Water flow in the Ogeechee during the study never fell to the critically low levels seen around the time of the fish kill, Mullis said, but he believes the research is likely to show one general truth about the river.
“The river, it’s a fragile system,” he said. “It’s pretty resilient at the same time – you know, it bounced back pretty quick after the fish kill – but I think the report is going to show that it’s still kind of a fragile system that can definitely be threatened, particularly when it gets hot and low.”
Besides a team of professors, the study involved cohorts of graduate student researchers in hydrological, biological and environmental assessments on the lower Ogeechee and its ecosystem.
Of the original lead researchers, Professor Stephen Vives, Ph.D., chair of Georgia Southern’s biology department, remains at the university. He recently notified the Bulloch County commissioners that the study had concluded and invited them to a reception before Tuesday’s public info session.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.