Sunset over the Flint River, Georgia.
Georgia's Flint River Sunset over the Flint River, Georgia. © Tom Wilson

Stories in Georgia

Securing Georgia’s Fresh Water

We’re working on multiple fronts to secure clean water for drinking, recreation, wildlife habitat and more.

The health of Georgia’s creeks, streams and rivers is vitally important to people and nature. Our rivers are home to large, diverse, unique communities of freshwater fish and amphibians—including darters, sunfishes, shiners and more. Communities depend on the availability of clean water for drinking, agriculture and recreation. 

The Nature Conservancy is working on multiple fronts to protect Georgia’s fresh water and ensure the availability of clean water for people and nature.

Water Security: Making Sure There's Enough Water

Agriculture is an important part of Georgia’s economy and heritage. Our agriculture industry also is one of the state’s largest water consumers, but Georgia is a leader in developing and deploying water-saving technology for irrigation systems that other states, regions and nations have adopted.

The Nature Conservancy and partners have worked with farmers in the Lower Flint River Basin to empower them with resources and tools they need to meet the increasing demands of a growing population, while safeguarding their livelihoods and protecting our valuable water resources. TNC’s active engagement in this work wrapped up several years ago, but key partners continue to innovate and engage with farmers.

Our evaluation of this work in 2017 revealed near-universal application of basic irrigation efficiency measures — but much work still to be done to ensure enough water stays in Flint River Basin streams, especially during periods of severe drought. 

TNC is currently working with thought leaders in the region to develop and test innovative incentive programs to focus and intensify water savings when and where they are needed most. This will help ensure we meet the conservation objective of sustaining the unique aquatic biodiversity found in the Lower Flint River Basin.    

Freshwater fish monitoring at a TNC-GA project.
Georgia Fish Monitoring Freshwater fish monitoring at a TNC-GA project. © TNC

Removing Barriers: Helping Fish Get Where They Need to Go

Freshwater fish need to travel rivers and streams freely to reach environments where they eat and reproduce. Dams and culverts at road-stream crossings can cause major roadblocks to fish passage. The blocks fragment habitat and degrade the streams, so species suffer.

The Raccoon Creek Watershed, which runs through the 25,707-acre Paulding Forest Wildlife Management Area, has long been a high priority for aquatic habitat restoration. It provides the only known habitat for the federally endangered Etowah darter downstream of Lake Allatoona and it supports the largest known community of an isolated sub-population of the federally threatened Cherokee darter. Forty-three other native fishes also are found in the Raccoon Creek aquatic community.

In order to improve the overall habitat in the Raccoon Creek watershed, TNC partners with the Coosa River Basin Initiative, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Kennesaw State University (KSU), Paulding County and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With these partners, we identify and prioritize sites to protect and restore. We also educate local landowners on how their properties and land-management practices impact the watershed.

In the early 2000s, the removal of a multi-box culvert at Racoon Creek Road became a priority goal. In 2019, the culvert was removed and replaced with a free-span bridge.  KSU graduate student Will Commins has monitored fish populations throughout the project to document the movement of fish above and below the culvert prior to its removal and will continue to monitor fish movement under the bridge to quantify the project’s impact on fish passage.

“Our ongoing habitat restoration work in the Raccoon Creek Watershed is the result of applying science and creative collaborations to meet conservation goals. Each partner played a key role in making this project a reality,” Katie Owens, north Georgia programs director. 

Restoring Wetlands: Extraordinary Biodiversity Endures

Home to more than 75 species of freshwater fish—including federally endangered or threatened species—the Conasauga River is among the most biodiverse rivers in the United States. An unparalleled number of mussels, snails, salamanders and crayfish also inhabit the Conasauga’s waters.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of wetland protection and restoration to protecting biodiversity and the availability of clean water for people and wildlife.

Director of Freshwater Science and Strategy for The Nature Conservancy

Georgia’s watersheds have experienced major transformation over the last century: landuse conversion, dam construction, expanding of cities, channelization of rivers and streams. But the extraordinary biodiversity of our watersheds endures.

Our freshwater wetlands work focuses on sound science and effective collaboration with state and federal agencies, conservation organizations and landowners. TNC is working with north Georgia landowners to implement a USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Regional Conservation Partnership Program grant to protect and restore stream buffers and wetland habitat, thus reducing nutrient and toxin loading in this high-risk watershed.