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Working Towards Watershed Management in the City of Atlanta

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In 2002, the leadership of the City of Atlanta kicked off a comprehensive program to have the cleanest urban streams and rivers in the country within a decade, recognizing that the City's future economic growth, jobs, affordability, and quality of life all depend on clean water. Atlanta is faced with many obstacles on the way to meeting this challenge; a few of these include:

Ongoing implementation of court-mandated activities to improve the City's unique mix of aging combined and separated wastewater infrastructure


Significant costs and an ambitious schedule associated with this infrastructure upgrade and maintenance


A dense urban environment which is experiencing major redevelopment activities; from 2000 to 2005 the City increased its population by 6 percent to approximately 445,000 residents and its total housing stock by 11 percent while less than 15 percent of the total City area remained undeveloped in 2003 (Atlanta Regional Commission [ARC], 2003)


The fact that all of the primary tributaries in the City are currently on the Georgia 303(d) list of impaired streams as partially supporting or not supporting their designated uses of “fishing” (Georgia Environmental Protection Division [GA EPD], 2006)


The small size/drainage area of the City's primary waterways, relative to other urban areas in the United States, making them particularly difficult to manage for watershed integrity


The City initiated its Long-Term Water Quality Monitoring Program (LTWMP) in 2003 working with the United States Geological Survey (USGS), a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), and others to develop an approach that meets the specifications of multiple regulatory programs as well as infrastructure-related Consent Decrees. Specifically, the LTWMP was designed to meet:

GA EPD guidance for Watershed Assessment and Protection Planning, a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) wastewater permit requirement in Georgia


GA EPD's NPDES Phase I Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) monitoring requirements


Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District Watershed Management Plan (District WMP) monitoring requirements (District, 2004)


The City has been collecting water quality data since the fall of 2003 as part of the LTWMP and biological data since 2001 in anticipation of the LTWMP. This information has already proven useful for reporting, site-specific analysis, and identification of hotspots in the City. In anticipation of final NPDES permits being issued for the City's three Water Reclamation Centers (WRCs), the City recently submitted a Watershed Monitoring Plan to GA EPD to illustrate that the LTWMP meets their Phase I Monitoring requirements for Watershed Assessment and Protection Planning. Upon approval of the Monitoring Plan by GA EPD, the City will proceed with sequential development of the remaining two phases – the Watershed Assessment (Phase II) and the Watershed Protection Plan (Phase III). This manuscript describes the City's ongoing efforts to implement an adaptive management approach to monitor and manage its watersheds in the challenging environment described above.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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