Deadfall and what to do with it

Deadfall is the term for trees, branches or other natural debris that falls into the river. This debris can get caught or pile up, making it difficult, or even impossible, for boaters and paddlers to travel on the river.

So what does one do with it?

Rules vary from state to state but in Georgia, the debris is considered part of the land it fell from, and is therefore private property. While the river itself is public, the land on either side belongs to the property owners. Any deadfall is theirs to remove, if they choose.

Ecologically, removing deadfall entirely is not advised. The shady spots, slowed water flow, and underwater hiding places a downed tree provides are welcome habitat for many species. Generally, Ogeechee Riverkeeper’s (ORK) recommendation is to clear a navigable path while leaving some debris for natural use.

In most cases, the debris will be knocked loose quickly or the water levels will change enough to make the obstacle no longer a problem.

Paddling under deadfall

If you encounter deadfall, try to determine precisely where the obstacle is. If it is part of a state park or other public facility, it can be reported. If possible, it might be removed (or modified) to allow for safe passage). Drop a GPS pin or be as specific as possible when describing so it can be located later.

If it is on private property, or the land owner is unknown, you are welcome to notify ORK but we cannot do anything to remove it. ORK can make note of the obstacle and let other paddlers know to avoid that section, although the debris is usually gone or no longer an obstacle by the time paddlers visit again. As frustrating it is for recreation, ORK cannot remove debris or require a private property owner to do so. 

Caused by soil erosion, high water levels, flow rate, weather patterns, wind speed, and more, deadfall is part of the natural life of a river. 

Watershed Trivia

Generic illustration of a watershed

A watershed is a system of how water flows through an area moving sediment, water and dissolved materials into a common point. Think of how a river or creek flows into or out of a lake. The Ogeechee Watershed (see map) has many types of ecosystems within it including freshwater from the Piedmont region, to blackwater rivers and swamps in the Coastal Plain region and runs all the way to the Georgia coast.

Description of Activity:

Submit your trivia answers to info@ogeecheeriverkeeper.org by July 31. We’ll send a free t-shirt for the first one to get all answers correct. Although it is tempting, try not to go straight to Google for answers. Go outside, and look for the answers. Use books and maps rather than the internet for your research, if possible. 

Trivia Questions:

  1. How many watersheds does GA have?  Bonus: Name 3.
  2. How many major river basins does GA have?  Bonus: Name 2. 
  3. What are the 5 geographic regions of GA? 
  4. Name two creeks in your watershed.
  5. What is the biggest city in your watershed?
  6. Name three animals that live in the Ogeechee River watershed.
  7. Name one rare plant that lives in, but is not limited to, the Ogeechee River watershed.
  8. How many people does the Ogeechee River basin provide drinking water for?
  9. Name as many state parks as you can that are located in the Ogeechee River watershed.
  10. What is an aquifer?

Fauna: Dolichovespula maculata

By Beatriz Moisset – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Bald-faced hornet
Dolichovespula maculata

The bald-faced hornet, also called the bald hornet or the white-faced hornet, is technically a wasp and only a close cousin to the true hornet. It gets its name for the black and white coloring (rather than the typical black and yellow) of its body.

Still, it behaves much that same, living in colonies of several hundred and building paper nests created from chewed wood pulp mixed with saliva. Nests high in trees or rocky overhangs are common. These beautiful nests can be up to two feet long.

A bald-faced hornet nest in a tree along the Ogeechee River. Photo by Samarra Mullis

The nests include many layers of hexagonal combs inside of an outer layer protective paper. They also create air vents in the upper portion of the nest that heat to escape.

The adult hornets are omnivores, eating other insects as well as fruit, meat, spiders and plant nectar. Perhaps more fierce and frightening than butterflies or bees, they are also important pollinators.

This species lives throughout most of America and Canada but are most commonly found in the American southeast. They are a stinging insects, though rarely do so unless disturbed. When found in urban or suburban areas it is recommended the nests be moved by professionals.

What are PFAs?

via The National Wildlife Federation

PFAs, or polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl

What is that?

PFAs are a category of manmade carcinogenic chemicals. Invented and brought into widespread use during World War II, they are very effective in extinguishing fires, especially ones accelerated by jet fuel or petroleum products. The PFAs are mixed with water to create a spray foam that suffocates the fire quickly and doesn’t allow the fire to reignite. They are also used to coat fabrics for firefighters.

PFAs are considered ‘forever chemicals’ because they do not break down in the environment and they accumulate in wildlife, plants and humans.

I don’t work in an airport and I’m not a firefighter or in the military, so I’m fine. 

Not really. PFAs are used in many household items like nonstick cookware, microwave popcorn bags, pizza boxes, windshield fluid and carpets.

They are also in the water — groundwater and drinking water. And over time, they accumulate in fish and livestock, meaning they are in the food chain. All of these sources cause them to accumulate in the human body.

Additionally, steps should be taken to make firefighting and military equipment safe for those using it.

Firefighter puts out car fire with PFAs-based foam

What does that mean?

Scientists are still investigating, testing and studying results, but here are some results:

  • It is estimated that 98% of Americans have some level of PFAs in their blood.
  • If a person were able to avoid exposure to any and all PFAs, it would take 3.5 years for half of the PFAs to be processed out of their system.
  • Studies show links to thyroid and liver problems, obesity, high cholesterol, low birth weight, and certain cancers.
  • Approximately 16 million Americans are drinking water that has been contaminated with PFAs. This includes private wells and public water systems.

CDC guidance on PFAsFDA guidance on PFAs

How do we trace PFAs?

Attention needs to be paid to threatened areas, particularly those near military installations or manufacturing plants. For example, the U.S. Air Force is testing water on 200 bases around the world, but as of last year had only completed a third of them.

All three U.S. Air Force bases in Georgia showed significant levels of PFAs contamination in the groundwater. Unfortunately, the military did not test water offsite, even if it was nearby. Local residents that use private wells are especially vulnerable to contamination.

The EPA drinking water advisory level is 70 parts per trillion PFAs. Groundwater samples from Moody Air Force Base tested 5,000 times that; Dobbins Air Reserve tested at 1,000 times; and Robins Air Force Base tested at more than 5,000 times the screening level.

Fire department sprays water on fire suppression foam. Photo by Greg L. Davis U.S. Air Force via dover.af.mi

So how do we get rid of it?

Some municipalities have already started to take steps.

Local governments and citizens must require action regarding PFAs.

  • Demand comprehensive PFAs drinking water and groundwater testing near high-likelihood sources. Use that data to determine the cause of the contamination and mitigate it.
  • Encourage drinking water testing of private wells in high-risk areas.
  • Require polluters to pay for remediation and damages, and not expect citizens to foot the bill, like in Summerville, Ga. or in Marinette, Wisc.
  • Test fish that may have been contaminated and issue advisory, if needed.
  • Encourage lawmakers to ban PFAs and/or source healthier alternatives.
  • Demand the EPA sets standards for ‘acceptable’ and enforces those standards.
  • Require ongoing testing and monitoring of pollutant sources.

Tannins and blackwater rivers

View of the blackwater on the Ogeechee River

The Ogeechee and Canoochee Rivers are considered ‘blackwater’ rivers. 

A blackwater river is typically a slow-moving waterway flowing through forests, swamps, or wetlands. As vegetation decays, tannins seep into the ground water or drain into lakes and streams, making a transparent, acidic water that is darkly stained, resembling black tea. Because of this blackwater rivers typically have a lower (more acidic) pH level.

Tannins are found commonly in the bark of trees, wood, leaves, buds, stems, fruits, seeds, and roots, and help to protect the individual plant species. For example, tannins stored in the bark of trees protect the tree from being infected by bacteria or fungi. Similar properties are extended to the waterways as it seeps into the river.

Additionally, less light penetration due to the darker water colors, means these waterways generally have less vegetation in the water. However, algae blooms can happen when there is a drought, which lowers the water level and allows sunlight to reach the bottom of the riverbed.

Swimming in a blackwater river

Tannins are also found in wine, tea, and berries, and are safe for human consumption. Historians note that early colonists and mariners would fill casks from blackwater rivers. In the days before treated water sources, it was a safer, healthier alternative. They didn’t understand that this water carried fewer microbes because of its chemical makeup, but they knew it worked. 

Blackwater streams also have high levels of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) due to the breakdown of the same plant material that cause the tannins. Because of this, blackwater rivers usually have high levels of (harmless) bacteria that feed on the DOC, causing a low oxygen levels.

The term tannin is from the Latin tannum and refers to the use of oak and other bark in tanning hides into leather. Scientifically, it refers to any large polyphenolic compound that can form strong complexes with various macromolecules. These compounds are most commonly found in organic, plant-based items.