Horsepen Creek flows into the St. Marys River at the Browntown community near Kingsland. It is hailed as a success story for the SMRK and other entities that worked successfully to clean it up over the last several years.
It was first recognized as having problems in 2015, when the University of Georgia conducted water sampling. The problem was leaking septic tanks along the creek, which is dotted with fishing camps, trailers and older homes. Escherichia coli, or E. coli, a species of fecal coliform, is considered a good indicator of the presence of pathogens.
In 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated a portion of the St. Marys River as “impaired”, qualifying it for federal grants. Camden County received the first grant for $204,375, and another one for $212,000 in 2020. The St. Marys Riverkeeper began regular monitoring at multiple sites, and helped educate the community about the necessity of septic system upgrades. The results were successful, with water quality now testing in the normal range. Monitoring will continue along the creek, with the next phases of septic system inspections in the works.
Julie Haigler, Grants Manager Camden County Board of Commissioners, presented the final report of the US EPA 319 grant in the fall of 2020. Here is the executive summary:
“The objective of Camden County’s 319(h) grant was to improve water quality of Horsepen Creek and a portion of the St. Marys River. To accomplish this, the County hosted community events and mailed out letters in an effort to recruit volunteers to participate in septic tank inspections and then replace failing systems. Over a three year period, a septic tank contractor pumped out or inspected 32 systems, replacing 23 failing systems. The St. Mary’s Riverkeeper performed monthly water testing and the results show a significant reduction of fecal coliform bacteria present at the 5 testing sites. Additionally, in January 2020 the Riverkeeper recorded macroinvertebrates for the first time. Macroinvertebrates are considered indicator species and are sensitive to poor water quality.”