Ogeechee flooding raising fish kill worries - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Ogeechee flooding raising fish kill worries

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The Ogeechee River is spilling over its banks and is expected to crest at 12.8 feet Sunday morning, more than three feet above flood stage.

"It's a good thing because it's natural, and normally this time of year, we will see some flooding," Ogeechee Riverkeeper Emily Markesteyn said. "We haven't seen it in awhile because we've been several years in a drought now."

Despite the high water and several days of rain, much of the Coastal Empire still technically is in a drought. That's because drought conditions have to do with how much water is available to be pulled out from the ground and used -- not how much is flowing on top of it.

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Environmental Protection Division has pointed to the drought as the primary cause of the biggest fish kill in Georgia History. An estimated 33,000 fish died along the Ogeechee in May 2011. But the riverkeeper thinks drought was only part of the problem.

"We were at very low levels when the fish kill happened," she said. "But we feel something else occurred to cause the fish to die."

The riverkeeper thinks that something else is chemicals being dumped into the river by King America Finishing. People who live along the Ogeechee say the river's ecosystem has been off-kilter since the fish kill.

"All kind of natural calamities were taking place," said Jerry Newsome, who lives near Williams Landing. "I used to come down here and do all kinds of photography of birds, and they're just not here anymore."

The worry now is that, although the flooding is perfectly natural, what effect the water will have downstream if it is, in fact, polluted.

"Anything natural can't put up with the unnatural products that they've been dumping into the river," Newsome said. "That's not to take away from the fact that the jobs are necessary, because jobs are good. But there's got to be a solution which involves responsible people doing responsible things for the greater good of the greater number of people."

The riverkeeper has sued the EPD to try to stop King America from continuing to discharge into the Ogeechee. A ruling in that case is expected by the end of March.

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