MountainTrue arranging new water quality tests in Lake Nottely, E. coli update

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BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – MountainTrue Western Regional Director Callie Moore presented a Union County water quality update and introduced a sampling plan to test for metals and other materials in Lake Nottely.

The proposed testing does not include PFAS because the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests only found trace amounts of PFAS in the lake. In other words, the tests determined that there wasn’t enough PFAS in the water to impact the overall quality. 

MountainTrue relies on science to support the reasoning behind a decision. When it comes to leachate, legally, the city of Blairsville and The Water Authority are within the parameters set by the EPA.

“We need to have a reason, not just that there’s hazardous stuff in there. There’s hazardous stuff already in our waters. These PFAS, these microplastics, they’re everywhere,” added Moore. “We don’t have the proof to be able to say that that landfill water should stop because of PFAS.”

However, MountainTrue Co-Directors have decided to conduct some sampling, and they will create a list of materials for testing.

They’ve been consulting with leachate processing experts to monitor the water accurately.

E. coli Butternut Creek 

Moore predominately wanted to clear up the E. coli concerns that many have expressed to her. MountainTrue has sampled streams, rivers, and lakes around the Hiawassee River Basin area for twenty years, including Butternut Creek.

“Different people at different times have sent different correspondence and put different things in the paper, none of which are accurate, when it comes to the Butternut Creek Watershed,” stated Moore.

MountainTrue employees sample five areas in the Butternut Creek Watershed – Headwaters, Mountain Building Supply, Farmers’ Market, golf course, and Meeks Park. The wastewater treatment plant is approximately halfway between the golf course site and Meeks Park.

Map of watershed

Additionally, a tributary watershed drains into Butternut Creek before the Meeks Park testing site.

Not all sites have the same amount of sampling data as Meeks Park because it’s the oldest testing site. As of July 28, 2020, MountainTrue samples Meeks Park every week.

The golf course site was only monitored intensively in 2016 and 2020. In 2019, the Headwaters site launched. An intern sampled Mountain Building Supply only in 2016. MountainTrue doesn’t always have enough volunteers to monitor all sites. However, with the recent interest in leachate and E.coli, more volunteers have stepped up to test the water.

Three E. coli graphs from Farmers Market, golf course, and Meeks Park.

“When you start to make conclusions about the golf course site verses the Meeks Park site, you can’t really compare them the same because there’s a gap between 2017 and 2018,” said Moore.

She presented three graphs concerning E. coli data from the Farmers’ Market, the golf course, and Meeks Park. The Farmers’ Market and the golf course are upstream from the water treatment plant, and each exhibits peaks near 5,000 colony forming units per 100 milliliters. However, the top of the graph on the Meeks Park map is 2,500 colony forming units per 100 milliliters.

“The Meeks Park site is the cleanest of the three featured in the data. Does that mean that it’s clean? No, it’s not clean,” explained Moore. “We saw a peak at the Meeks Park site, and people were concerned, and we wanted to have current data.”

Previously, the most intensive data from Meeks Park was from 2016, which was during a drought year. The 2016 and 2020 data indicates a significant change in E. coli data between those two years. Moore added that changes to the tributary watershed have contributed to the increase.


A state agency determines if a site is safe for swimming by gathering five samples within 30 days, then determining the geometric mean. Currently, Butternut Creek at the Farmers’ Market, golf course, and Meeks Park (Colwell Fields) are significantly over the EPA recommended E. coli levels for swimming, even infrequent swimming.

Geometric Mean for Butternut Creek

  • Farmers’ Market – 457.7
  • Golf Course – 3016.0
  • Meeks Park (Colwell Fields) – 867.0

Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) lists infrequent swimming at <576 CFU/100mL and designated swimming at <235 CFU/100mL. The Nottely River/Lake test site at Meeks Park II passes the designated swimming E. coli level with a geometric mean of 180.6.

E. coli data from this 2020.

“Butternut Creek is impaired. It’s on the Stage Three of impaired waters, and it has been ever since I know of, definitely as far back as 2012,” Moore added. “The reasons why are livestock having access to streams, leaking septic systems, and in some cases, woods.”

During a forestland E. coli monitoring, they found high levels of bacteria because of the high concentration of wildlife in some regions of the watershed.

The non-point source pollutions are a problem for the community, Butternut Creek, and even the upstream of Nottely River.

MountainTrue plans to create a new plan for the Butternut Creek Watershed and use grant funding to overcome these issues.

“The wastewater treatment plant has not ever contributed to the E. coli problem at Meeks Park. The E. coli problem has always been higher than that. Even, Headwaters site since we started monitoring it in 2019, most of the time, it’s over the EPA recommended levels already before it gets to the highway.”

Moore added that the wastewater treatment plant is efficient when processing traditional pollutants, not the ones found in leachate.

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