Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper (ORK) was formed in 2004 from the merger of two organizations, Canoochee Riverkeeper (CRK) and Friends of the Ogeechee River (FROG).
CRK’s history begins with the childhood memories of three sisters who grew up on a farm near Claxton, Georgia. Linda, Sylvia, and Claudelle Smith spent many happy days in their youth camping on white sandbars along the Canoochee River, diving into swimming holes, and fishing for their supper.
Even as the girls were learning to love the tea-colored river that meandered past their homestead, on its way to a junction with the Ogeechee, another family was entering the chicken business just five miles upstream. In time, as Claxton Poultry’s business grew, so did pollution problems downstream. Eventually, excessive algae, sometimes covering the entire surface of the river, made it impossible for the family to continue its tradition of camping and swimming in the Canoochee.
Monitoring reports submitted to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division suggested that Claxton Poultry was exceeding its permit to spray wastewater onto fields near the river. The family suspected that excessive nutrients from the spray fields were entering the groundwater, migrating to the Canoochee, and causing algae to bloom in the river.
Determined to protect the river they loved, the Smiths hired Donald Stack of Stack and Associates, P.C. to fight for the Canoochee. The lawsuit that ensued was eventually settled. In keeping with the agreement, Claxton Poultry provided money for five years to found and support a Riverkeeper organization for the Canoochee River. Canoochee Riverkeeper was established in 2001, and Chandra Brown was hired to head the organization.
In the same year that CRK was created, a group of four men from Louisville, Georgia, became gravely concerned about a pollution threat to the river they loved: the majestic Ogeechee River. A local sod farmer had cut a deal to apply sewage sludge from a notorious treatment plant to his land along Rocky Comfort Creek, a tributary of the Ogeechee.
The sludge was to serve as fertilizer, of course. But the “sludge brothers,” as they later called themselves, were convinced that the sludge would contaminate groundwater and the nearby creek. Documented problems at the Augusta-Richmond County plant and two related lawsuits by dairy owners in Richmond County suggested that the sludge contained unacceptable levels of disease-carrying microorganisms and heavy metals. Together with other citizens, these men formed Citizens Against Sludge Pollution (CASP).
CASP was unsuccessful in its effort to convince the Georgia Environmental Protection Division not to issue the permit for the sludge operation. More determined than ever, the founders of CASP refused to abandon the effort to protect the Ogeechee River watershed from pollution. By changing its name to Friends of the Ogeechee River and broadening its focus, this all-volunteer organization eventually attracted over 150 members.
In 2004, CRK and FROG began to negotiate a merger between the two organizations. Each organization had realized that through a united effort, they could better protect rivers and streams throughout the Ogeechee basin from nutrient overloading, groundwater contamination, and a host of other pollution threats. The merger was made official in 2005, and a new name was chosen for the combined organization: Ogeechee-Canoochee Riverkeeper (ORK). In 2009, we shortened the name to Ogeechee Riverkeeper.
Chandra Brown continued as the original Riverkeeper/Executive Director of the new, larger organization until 2010. Several members of CRK and FROG’s original boards continue to serve as directors and volunteers.
In 2018, Damon Mullis started as the Riverkeeper/Executive Director of ORK.
By: Linda Smith and Jim Abbot