Where next? Anglers have to be wondering as two more significant fish-kills have occurred in Georgia, on Brier Creek in Burke County and Commissioner Creek in Wilkinson County. As fish were dying in these two creeks, state officials finally concluded an investigation of the worst fish-kill in state history. In May, the Ogeechee was devastated when a textile plant illegally discharged wastewater into the river and caused more than 30,000 fish to die.
On Oct. 15, thousands of fish began to die in Brier Creek, a large blackwater stream that forms a border of Tuckahoe WMA before it flows into the Savannah River. It turned crystal clear near Keysville as fish began dying. Fish also died in Reedy Creek, a small tributary.
“We don’t have a final tally yet on dead fish, but I’m told it will be in the thousands,” said Kevin Chambers, communications director for Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD). He said EPD didn’t yet know the cause or extent of the Brier Creek kill, and EPD did not issue a fishing or swimming advisory.
Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said her organization has issued a warning to residents.
“We currently have an alert out for people to not get in the creek or to consume fish, and for people with shallow ground-water wells to not drink from them until we know more,” Tonya said.
She said Brier Creek became crystal clear, and testing found aluminum sulfate in the water — factors that point to overflow from a kaolin-mine pond as the likely cause. There are four kaolin mines in the “kill zone,” and the area saw heavy rain for three days just before the fish-kill.
When aluminum sulfate contacts water, it turns to sulfuric acid, a highly corrosive acid like that in batteries. However, the fish likely died from a rapid PH change, not directly from contact with aluminum sulfate.
Kaolin mining is huge in Georgia, with annual production estimated at $1 billion. It is primarily used in paper production and in paints and ceramics.
The Savannah Riverkeeper is hosting a public meeting at 3 p.m. on Oct. 30 at the Keysville City Hall.
“The idea is to let the community come out, and we will share with them everything we know,” Tonya said. “Our organization was contacted by the Waynesboro drinking-water system two days after the fish kill. Nobody even called them. Their drinking water comes from directly below this fish kill,” Tonya said.
“We had locals coming down, asking what’s going on. Nobody was telling them. That’s a culture that needs to change.”
The Commissioner Creek fish-kill is also still under investigation. That waterway also turned extremely clear during the fish-kill, and there are two kaolin mines in the immediate area. Officials estimate up to 5,000 fish — up to 50 percent of the fish in that part of the creek — may have died. In a local newspaper, a state biologist said he investigated a similar fish-kill five years ago in Little Commissioner Creek where the water turned extremely clear.