Conserving the Chattooga

By Dave Perrin

Designated a "Wild and Scenic" River in 1974, the Chattooga is famous for its role in the movie Deliverance (1972). But for those who have rafted or paddled its waters on the border of South Carolina and Georgia, it is best remembered for a sense of solitude, incredible beauty, abundant wildlife, calm pools and thundering rapids. A paddler's dream. But the Chattooga is threatened by pollution and encroaching development. Dave Perrin is the Chattooga Outpost Manager for North Carolina's Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). NOC has been offering rafting trips on the Chattooga since 1972 and, in association with other outfitters on the Chattooga, has worked to save the river. But they need your help! Here Dave tells you how to join the effort to save one of North America's most beloved waterways for the next generation . . .

Many think the Chattooga River is protected and preserved under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. This is partially true since the river is protected from calamities such as dams, streamside development, mining, etc. However, the river faces water quality threats as some of its unprotected watershed lands are developed and tributaries become polluted. It doesn't have to be like this. Eighty percent of the problems in water quality can be eradicated by education and responsible action.

In 1992, the three outfitters on the Chattooga River (NOC, Southeastern Expeditions, Wildwater, Ltd.) formed the Chattooga Outfitters Association to create and fund programs that publicize threats to the Chattooga and at the same time search for and demonstrate solutions to them. By donating $.40 per guest, the total contribution since the fund's inception has been well over $50,000.

In 1995 this money was used to fund initiatives such as whitewater education programs in local schools; multi-year water testing of Stekoa Creek water (Stekoa Creek is the most heavily polluted tributary to the Chattooga); a guide to the Chattooga River; and initial implementation of the EPA grant for the Stekoa Creek Water Quality Improvement Program. As John Hankenson, the retail director of the Southeast region of the EPA stated, "This country has been successful in controlling the individual point sources of pollution. The next problem, and one much more difficult to address, is the widespread non-point sources of pollution such as we were seeing affecting the Chattooga."

How You Can Help
If you've ever rafted or paddled the Chattooga, or know anyone who has, ask yourself how valuable that Chattooga River experience was. If you believe that experience is worth saving then write your Congressman and Senators and let them know. Ask them to support funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for protecting more land for the Chattooga River watershed. The fund was specifically created to preserve this country's diminishing wild lands and water resources. Yet Congress has only used a fraction of the allocated money for that purpose and is threatening to do away with it altogether. It is now being used primarily for deficit reduction. Of the approximate 3 billion dollars in the fund, less than 300 million dollars was spent on conservation projects in 1995. That's for the entire country.

Also, ask Congress to support funding for improving the Clayton, Georgia sewage treatment system (this includes the old sewage lines which leak and need replacing). This sewage treatment plant discharges directly into Stekoa Creek which flows only a few miles before it enters the Chattooga.

Write the Governor of Georgia and ask him to make preserving the water quality of the Chattooga a state priority. (You might remind him of how much money you or your friends have spent vacationing in his state!) Ask him to pay greater attention to the enforcement of current water quality laws and improve efforts at minimizing state highway construction impacts.

Your Letters Make a Difference!
Because of letters Chattooga enthusiasts have written on these issues, progress has been made. In 1995 the Forest Service acquired 200 acres of prime developable lands adjacent to the river's protected corridor through funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. On June 26, 1996, the Trust for Public Land conveyed 367 acres of land lying within the watershed of the Chattooga River to the U.S. Forest Service. The property located in Oconee County, South Carolina, was formerly part of a large apple orchard which the owner had already cleared for development. This acquisition is part of The Trust's ongoing program to acquire and protect land within the watershed of the Chattooga River. To date, 2367 acres of land in the river's watershed have been protected.

Ongoing Projects
While land has been preserved, more needs to be done. A large development is under way on the banks of Longcreek. This creek forms the waterfall (Longcreek Falls) on Section Four that NOC stops at on each trip. The construction is currently causing noticeable sediment which flows into the creek.

The Clayton, Georgia wastewater treatment is being upgraded with grants from the state of Georgia and the federal government. However, this work is being done on a plant that doesn't meet existing standards of discharge, leaving the aged, leaking underground lines alone.

The State of Georgia Department of Transportation has been in regular attendance at Stekoa Creek water quality committee meetings and is working to improve its problems with roadways adjacent to Chattooga tributaries.

Stekoa Creek Project
Stekoa Creek, the Chattooga's most heavily polluted tributary, is an ongoing area of concern on the river. The Stekoa Creek Water Quality committee has received federal grant money to develop and implement projects and there is heightened interest in the problems of the watershed from the EPA, Georgia EPD, and the US Forest Service. Letters of concern have helped position the national spotlight on the Chattooga.

The Chattooga Outfitters Association (NOC, Wildwater, Ltd. and Southeastern Expeditions) has jointly funded a demonstration stream restoration project in the Chattooga watershed on Stekoa Creek. On the Keener Farm in Rabun County, Georgia, a half-mile section of the stream has been restored using the latest techniques. State and Federal water protection agencies have supported this project with funding and on-site expertise. The outfitters have spearheaded the effort, provided matching funds, and supplied manpower for the actual work.

The stream banks were highly eroded, void of vegetation, and cattle had free access to the stream. We protected the stream by fencing its banks and developing hardened cattle crossings. The stream itself was shaped using pioneering methods developed by Dave Rosgens who visited the site. His knowledge of the dynamics of stream flow and how its forces create erosive actions is cutting edge. In time this section of Stekoa Creek will be a model for restoration projects throughout the Southeast.

Call NOC at 1-800-232-7238 for reservations & further information on the Chattooga and the four other southeastern rivers we raft: Ocoee, Nantahala, French Broad and Nolichucky.

Call 1-888-662-1662 for further information on NOC programs and facilities: Whitewater Instruction, Adventure Travel, Action Learning Programs & Mountain Biking.

Special thanks to Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) for sharing this lesson in conservation.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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