Watershed monitoring group programs: impact and assessment of oil and sewage spills in Hunnicutt Creek; Athens, Georgia
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In August 2003, up to 14,000 gallons of used oil spilled into Hunnicutt creek, headwaters to the Middle Oconee River. This resulted in significant aquatic ecological damage documented by members of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network (UOWN). The biological score for Hunnicutt Creek determined after the spill was poor (<11). In February 2004, free oil phases were observed at various points on the water surface and sediments extending as far as the mouth of Hunnicutt, the entry point into the Middle Oconee River. Initial chemical analysis of the creek water in September 2003 was high in hydrocarbon concentrations, particularly dibenzo (a,h) anthracene (>345 μg/L) and hexadecane (178.66 mg/L). This was consistent with the poor biological score obtained in our September 2003 and January 2004 quarterly sampling at Ben Burton Park. The latter event yielded a poor biological score (12). The scores obtained in July 2004 were poor (7) closer to the contamination source but had returned good (20) at the creek’s mouth. A shallow depth (<15 cm) chemical analysis of the sediments did not detect any organic contaminants of concern and monitoring results for 2004 show signs of improvement. Hunnicutt may have attained a fair level of recovery through natural attenuation, which can only be confirmed through continual monitoring of the water, sediments, and the biological activity in the creek.