SAVANNAH — Five years ago, the Ogeechee River saw the largest fish kill in Georgia history. More than 38,000 fish, mussels and, according to citizen reports, other marine wildlife including alligators, turtles and birds, were found dead along a 70-mile stretch of river from Screven County to Chatham County.
The kill began downstream from the King America Finishing discharge pipe in Dover, and when investigated, the company was found to have been discharging pollutants for years without requesting permit amendments from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
Since the violation was discovered, much has transpired. Court battles were waged and King America was ordered to spend $1 million on environmental projects tighter monitoring guidelines were implemented and Ogeechee Riverkeeper spent countless resources, hours and efforts lobbying for the polluted waterway and those who depend on it for drinking water, employment and recreation. King America was acquired by Milliken in 2014.
Now, half a decade later, one of South Georgia’s most prized natural resources has been largely restored to its former glory. Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markesteyn reports that the river has bounced back. All water-quality, aquatic bug and fish testing show a normal, healthy river system.
"We are satisfied that this beautiful, pristine river has recovered from the pollutants dumped in it without the proper permit or testing. However, our work is not done," Markesteyn said. "We’re as dedicated as ever to reviewing, monitoring and testing the Ogeechee and proactively protecting what is important to this region."
In addition to five continuous monitoring stations above and below Milliken’s Longleaf Plant, ORK has implemented water testing sites at Highways 301 and 24, Dasher’s Landing, Morgan’s Bridge and Kings Ferry.
ORK staff plans to continue working with Milliken, a South Carolina-based company known for its environmental stewardship. Milliken spent millions of dollars to upgrade the plant, equipping the wastewater treatment system with media filtration and carbon filtration and altogether removing sanitary waste from the discharge by installing a septic system. Markesteyn said ORK staff regularly review discharge monitoring reports, toxicity testing and biological monitoring (bugs and fish).