Ogeechee River landings are once again closed in Bulloch and Effingham counties after reports of dead fish, skin rashes and odd water colors Wednesday.
But a little farther south, the waters appear to be safe. Bryan County Fire Chief Otis Willis said Friday there were currently no advisories issued for Bryan County. Willis is filling in for Emergency Services Director William Collins while on vacation.
“We just checked both landings, Dasher’s Landings and Morgan’s Bridge, and both looked good,” Willis said. “There were no indications of any dead fish and no indications of any problems.”
Willis said local officials will spot check the river landings throughout the weekend to ensure water safety for residents.
Ogeechee Riverkeeper Dianna Wedincamp notified the Georgia Environmental Protection Division on Thursday after receiving complaints from four citizens about “pinkish red coloring” in wastewater discharge from King America Finishing, a textiles plant in Dover that many suspect is responsible for fish kills in May 2011 and May 2012.
She said two citizens complained of skin rashes after swimming downriver from the plant Wednesday, and fish, including a three-foot-long catfish, were found dead in the river in Effingham County.
Effingham Emergency Management Agency Director Ed Myrick closed the river landings in that county Thursday and issued a swimming and fishing advisory. Bulloch County Public Safety Director Ted Wynn followed suit Thursday as a precaution, also issuing warnings against consuming fish from or swimming in the river.
“During the July Fourth celebrations, the Effingham County Emergency Management Agency responded to and collected a three foot dead catfish from the Ogeechee River approximately 10 miles south of the Georgia Highway. 119 Bridge along the Sandhill Road area,” Myrick said in a statement on the Effingham County website. He said the catfish “appeared to be the victim of the columnaris disease by the trademark ‘blisters.’”
King America Finishing was not immediately available for comment Thursday evening.
Columnaris, a bacterial disease caused by environmental stress, causes fish to develop red spots and white cottony patches. Many citizens have stated in public hearings that they believe chemicals in King America’s effluent is what causes the environmental stress, paired with low water and high temperatures.
No fish kills have been reported upriver from the plant, but in May 2011, about 38,000 fish died. Two months ago, dozens of fish were found dead downriver of the plant.
“It is apparent that the pollutants in the Ogeechee River are continuing to be an ongoing problem and may always be …” Myrick said. “I sympathize with the businesses that depend on the Ogeechee River for income, but we must look after the health and safety of everyone involved.”
Waters in the Ogeechee River Basin, which runs from Ga. Hwy. 17 to the ocean, are classified as fishing, recreation, drinking water, or wild and scenic.
Wedincamp said aerial photos taken this week of the King America Finishing plant site clearly shows a holding pond with pinkish red liquids. She and several from the Ogeechee Riverkeeper Association were in the river Thursday, taking samples, photographs and other evidence.
Environmental Protection Division agents also were on the river, investigating the dead fish along with other complaints, she said.
Read more in the July 7 edition of the News.