Gordon County waterways with fecal matter readings:
Waterways with sedimentation readings
Source: Environmental Protection Agency
About 80 percent of the human body is made up of water, but for Dan McBee, executive director of the New Echota River Alliance, water is 100 percent of what he's about.
"Without water to drink," the Gordon County, Ga., native tells fourth-graders listening to one of his educational presentations, "three days is about as long as you'll live."
It's the same message he delivered recently to Gordon County's Board of Commissioners. McBee told them the alliance is moving ahead with a campaign to intervene in the county's troubled waterways. His goal is to ensure that future generations have far more than three days' worth of clean, safe drinking water.
Five water systems in Gordon County have been designated as "impaired" by the Environmental Protection Agency. Those systems are among the county's major waterways and have a direct connection to the water that runs from many local faucets. McBee wants to address the problem, but told the commissioners he's not asking them for any money. And he assured them that the Coosawattee River, the source of much of the county's drinking water, has been declared safe.
McBee's action plan reads almost like a gigantic marketing proposal, which is somehow appropriate, seeing as how McBee had been the hands-on owner of an Atlanta advertising agency. His company introduced Mexican cuisine to Sweden and, in another business venture, he and a partner produced dried pigs' ears that were sold as dog treats. He came home to Calhoun a few years ago to care for his mother.
"I always had the feeling that Calhoun and Gordon County was a great place to grow up," he said. "I wanted to give something back."
Four of the streams identified as impaired suffer from high concentrations of fecal matter and one has sedimentation problems. All five could be addressed through intervention programs funded by the proceeds of a $3.2 million EPA grant, McBee said. This would come after a $73,000 grant received in 2012 that allowed the alliance to test waterways to determine which were healthy.
Funds from the most recent grant will be used to educate and assist with implementing preventive programs and techniques to lessen the threat and, over time, create cleaner, safer waterways, McBee said.
The second portion of the action plan will address county septic tank systems, especially those installed before regulations existed. Many of those older systems, McBee said, over time have a negative impact on water health countywide. The grant will provide money to help owners upgrade those systems.
Becky Hood, chairwoman of the Gordon County Board of Commissioners, sees great merit to the project.
"Gordon County recognizes the importance of protecting our waterways and of preserving that natural resource for future generations," she said. "We appreciate Mr. McBee's work in this area and wish him success in obtaining the grant funds."
McBee also conducts educational programs for elementary school children, organizes river cleanup events and works to increase awareness of the long-term negative impact of water pollution.
Forty percent of the grant total must be matched by the local community, whether in cash, man-hours or donated goods and services. McBee believes an informed populace will make it easier to achieve that match.
His goal, he said, is to see the rivers in Gordon County labeled "good" in his lifetime, a feat that hasn't happened since the EPA began pollution testing.
John Shivers is based in Calhoun. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.