From the Riverkeeper

Take Me to the River

SMRK weathers the pandemic to keep watch over the watershed

By Anna Laws

Happy Spring! We have just revamped our website and our volunteers seem re-energized to get together once again and do the good work needed to help the river.

Although Covid certainly put a long pause on a lot of our activities, as it did everywhere, we did manage to continue our primary mission of collecting water data regularly along the river. When the St. Marys Riverkeeper was founded in 2016, we realized that much of our watershed does not have regular water quality monitoring, and that we needed to increase our monitoring to fully understand the threats that our watershed faces. At that time only a handful of sites were being tested, and not with regularity.

Today we have expanded our water quality monitoring to include over 50 different sites throughout the watershed. We continue to grow our capacity, and we are now collecting chemical data in addition to bacterial data. We are happy to report that after four years of monitoring, our data shows a very healthy mainstem of the St Marys . Although the mainstem is healthy, we continue to identify new tributaries with high fecal coliform.

One of our primary goals is to address fecal coliform impairments in our watershed. Our rapidly growing population overburdens aging septic systems in our community; this pressure coupled with a high water table and sea level rise means that septic runoff is a major threat to our watershed. Below are examples of three such locations and how we are responding. All of these sites have received a great deal of attention because of their high E-coli counts. Part of the success of the monitoring of these sites and others has been our partnerships with the local high school science classes in each area, providing critical data that has helped tremendously. We remain a small organization and none of our work is possible without our many volunteers, partners, and members. We thank you for making all of our achievements possible!


Horsepen Creek, Camden County, GA.

Since 2015, the creek has tested very high for fecal coliform, eventually leading to a federal designation of “impaired”. Federal grants allowed the county to inspect and pump out dozens of septic systems over the last three years, replacing more than twenty. The results have been dramatic, with the water quality improving to the point of meeting federal standards. Water monitoring continues in the area as plans are made to continue replacing failing septic systems.

Spanish Creek, Charlton County, GA

The Charlton County Citizens Advisory Committee recently completed a Watershed Management Plan to address the issue of cleaning up the bacterially-impaired Spanish Creek watershed. The plan identified many possible causes for the contamination – from carcasses being dumped into creek beds to agricultural runoff. The plan concludes that more testing is needed to further pinpoint the sources and recommend solutions.

Escambia Slough, Fernandina Beach, FL

This waterway has shown consistent, extremely high fecal coliform levels since we began monitoring in 2016. Our data showed such an alarming trend that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to begin regularly monitoring the creek in 2020, and has increased its monitoring in 2021. The slough runs directly through downtown Fernandina and very possibly be declared “impaired” soon, opening the possibility of obtaining grants. We are also providing support to the City of Fernandina and Nassau Department of Health. Septic systems in the area have been inspected, and four cited. We will continue to monitor and work with these agencies to find and remedy the source of the contamination.