“I’m working to address issues that affect water quality,” said Coosa Riverkeeper Frank Chitwood, who recently addressed the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association.
Chitwood, 23, is the youngest waterkeeper in the world. There are 200 waterkeepers worldwide on six continents.
“I am one of seven waterkeepers in Alabama,” he said.
Chitwood, who is based in Riverside, covers Logan Martin, Neely Henry, Lay, Mitchell and Jordan lakes with 5,000 square miles of area.
“We take a watershed approach,” he said. “The Coosa starts in Rome, Ga., and I work on all of the tributary streams.”
Chitwood said there are 77,242 miles of streams in Alabama.
“Alabama is seventh in the nation, and first in navigable miles,” he said.
Chitwood said Coosa Riverkeeper is a citizen-based organization dedicated to improving water quality in the Coosa Valley for the benefit of drinking water, public health, recreation and wildlife. The Riverkeeper patrols the river by boat and plane, monitors polluters and their permits, samples water quality, responds to citizen complaints, educates the public, and advocates on behalf of the river.
“Overall, we are here to ensure compliance with environmental laws like the Clean Water Act, which allows citizens to act on behalf of the federal government to prevent pollution and make the water safer,” he said.
Chitwood said the biggest issue affecting rivers in Alabama is poor enforcement of environmental laws by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
“For Logan Martin Lake, much of the problem is upstream,” he said. “The people on the lake know the value of clean water. But the people upstream, who are not affected as much, have less regard for the water quality. There is a general disregard for these valuable resources.”
Chitwood said the LMLPA does a great job of monitoring water quality, and he uses their data.
He said a couple of issues facing Logan Martin Lake include sewage problems and poor construction practices.
“I had someone on Blue Eye Creek report sewage dumping late at night from an RV campground,” he said. “It was near where Blue Eye Creek empties into the lake in the Stemley Road area.”
Chitwood said it is often hard to pinpoint sources of dumping.
“We need citizens’ assistance to help,” he said. “We still haven’t found out who exactly is dumping that sewage, but it has happened less frequently.”
Chitwood said there are steps people can take to act on issues such as illegal sewage dumping.
“The most important tool you have is a camera,” he said. “You can’t really address pollution issues without hard proof. Keep a camera on your boat, even a disposable one.”
He said it is important to document what you see.
“They can get in touch with me and I will help them get with the appropriate state department to deal with it,” he said. “I can sometimes go look at it, but I can’t personally look at every case. But I will help them in some way. The most important thing is to have that camera and get a picture of it happening.”
Chitwood said poor management of construction sites is also a big problem, due to runoff.
“If they don’t have silt fences to keep the mud and dirt on the site, that runoff can end up in the lake and decrease the capacity of the lake to hold water,” he said. “A shallow area near the house can make it harder to get a boat in and out of the water.”
Chitwood said he also deals with large issues, such as coal-fired power plants and wastewater treatment plants and industrial pollution in general.
“Even though that isn’t in the local area, the upstream issues affect the water quality downstream,” he said. “We need to respect and take care of our waterways.”
For more information, call Frank Chitwood at 205-216-1544 or visit coosariver.org.