Pounds of litter collected
Number of bacterial monitoring sites
Number of students educated
Adopt-A-Stream citizens trained
Rain barrels distributed
The Vernon River is part of the Ogeechee Estuary. It begins near Montgomery Crossroads and flows down to Green Island Sound where it converges with the Ogeechee River to meet the Atlantic Ocean.
Ogeechee Riverkeeper, the City of Savannah, and other stakeholders are partnering on a long-term project to restore the waterways in the Vernon River basin to the point that it can be delisted as an impaired waterbody by Georgia EPD, and to reduce litter and plastic pollution in the area.
“Management plan for Vernon River finalized; seeks to tamp down e. Coli, litter and more” – Read the article in Savannah Morning News
The Vernon River drains approximately 40% of the City of Savannah, via urban and suburban runoff that flows through Wilshire Canal, Harmon Canal, Casey Canal, and Hayners Creek. All of these waterways are part of the Ogeechee River watershed.
When stormwater runs across parking lots, through streets, and off of other impervious surfaces it doesn’t have a chance to be filtered through soils before reaching the marsh.
Pollution enters the Vernon River via stormwater run-off, litter, chronically failing septic systems, and sanitary sewer system leaks and spills.
According to analysis conducted in preparation for the 2011 WMP, bacterial contributions were found to be coming from the following sources:
- 47% of the fecal coliform bacteria found in these canals are from human waste sources.
- 44% is from a wildlife source.
- The remainder is from pet waste.
“After decades, city and stakeholders ready to tackle E. coli contamination in Vernon River” – Read the article in Savannah Morning News
In 2001 a group of citizens focused on protecting the Vernon River from urban pollution when it was listed as ‘impaired’ by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD). In 2012 the committee expanded to a group of stakeholders that work to reduce human and domestic pet sources of pollution and to create a Watershed Management Plan (WMP). The plan was released in 2013 and a number of recommendations have been enacted.
The ultimate goal is to reduce pollution to the point that it will be delisted by the Georgia EPD as ‘impaired.‘ Using advanced scientific testing and mapping, ORK and stakeholders will pinpoint the sources of the pollution and work to remediate them.
The Vernon River Project includes input from multiple stakeholders, including:
- The City of Savannah
- Chatham County
- UGA Marine Extension
- Cuddybum Hydrology
- Ogeechee Riverkeeper
- Georgia Southern University
- Savannah State University
- Skidaway Institute of Oceanography (UGA)
- Town of Vernonburg
- Concerned residents from neighborhoods throughout the Vernon River basin
The committee promoted the project through multiple education efforts in order to engage citizens and help citizens understand their impacts on water quality. The committee also provided resources with concrete steps citizens can take to contribute to the project, including: Adopt-A-Stream locations, litter reduction and collection, educational resources, and volunteer opportunities.
Sewage main collapse spills more than 58,000 gallons on Savannah road – Read the article in the Savannah Morning News
STATISTICS: As of April 2023
- So far, more than 3660 lbs of trash has been collected from the creeks and canals leading to the Vernon. Styrofoam is the most common litter collected in litter booms, with an average of 292 pieces per clean up.
- There are a total of 61 unique bacterial sampling sites within the Vernon River watershed that ORK and Adopt-A-Stream volunteers are monitoring.
- The average E. coli count among all sites is 5,979.4 MPN/100ml and 6,196.8 MPN/100ml for enterococci. The statistical threshold value for E. coli is 410 MPN/100 ml and 130 MPN/100 ml for enterococci.
- A total of 65 intern hours have been used for cleanups and bacterial sampling. There are 6 Adopt-A-Stream-trained volunteers associated with the project bacterial sampling.
- ORK has engaged 579 students at 2 different schools in 5th and 9-11th grades with onsite water quality education programming.
SUCCESSES TO DATE
- ORK was the recipient of a Five Star grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) in support of its ongoing Protect The Vernon project.
- City of Savannah was able to locate misdirected lawn drain runoff and repair a sewer pipe leak in Habersham Village area.
- City of Savannah and Toole Sculpture Works created ‘flowers’ at the rain garden in front of Jacob G. Smith Elementary School.
- City of Savannah, ORK, and Osprey Initiative have installed four litter traps in neighborhood canals, and more locations have been identified.
- ORK has set up live rainfall/water level monitoring stations within the Vernon watershed. Data is publicly available here.
- ORK has started bacterial source tracking project.
- ORK and stakeholders have updated the official watershed management plan.
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