Memories of his childhood and a radio ad that aired more than 20 years ago are two reasons why David Fountain heads to Long Island Creek every month.
The Sandy Springs resident is a volunteer with Georgia Adopt-A-Stream, and his efforts have him monitoring the creek near his house in Powers Ferry Estates, which he and his wife moved into in 1993. It was in November of the next year when he responded to an ad from Fulton County that sought volunteer stream monitors.
“The idea interested me, and I went to a training course. That started the whole process, and it’s just kept going ever since,” Fountain said.
More than 20 years later, he continues to measure the qualities of the nearby creek, whose headwaters are up near Roswell Road and Interstate 285. It flows south and west, eventually dumping into the Chattahoochee River.
“I have always really felt like creeks were just magical places, and some of my fondest memories from my childhood were playing in the creek near my grandparents’ house, and so when it came time to buy my own house, I really viewed the proximity to the creek as a wonderful thing. I wanted my future child, at least at the time we bought our house, to be able to play in a safe and healthy creek,” Fountain said. “It was really that desire.
“My daughter was born a few years later, and she has very much enjoyed playing in the creek and going back there with me,” he added. “Ultimately, [for me it’s about] just wanting to ensure that the creek is a safe place for the kids of the neighborhood to play in.”
His daughter, now 15, sometimes joins him in his efforts. “Occasionally, she’ll go back with me, whether she helps with the monitoring or not—there’s always turtles to look for, crayfish and all the other things that are back at the creek,” he said.
An electrical engineer specializing in radar systems, Fountain said the Adopt-A-Stream program features volunteers from “an amazingly eclectic mix of professions. There’re lots of Scout troops, and then just individuals like myself from just every imaginable profession,” he said.
“Georgia is blessed with just thousands and thousands of miles of creeks and streams. That’s very good on the one hand,” Fountain added. “On the other hand, there are only a handful of people at the government level who are tasked with monitoring the health of all of those streams, so Adopt-A-Stream is a network of volunteers who are organized by the state government who become the state’s ‘eyes on the stream,’ as you will.”
The data these volunteers collect is invaluable.
“It’s used by local governments to assess local conditions. It is used by scientists and environmental modelers to better understand watershed conditions. Volunteer data is also used for screening purposes to identify areas in need of further monitoring,” said Harold Harbert, watershed outreach manager for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. “Because David has been monitoring for over 20 years, his data is very instructive in understanding general and specific trends in water quality in Sandy Springs and urban areas.”
Harbert said some of the questions Fountain answers with his reports include “Is the water clear or turbid?” “Is there a film on the surface?” “Does the stream have an odor, and if so, describe it?” And “Is the water flow adequate or low?”
“In one data entry, David identified and described a sewage leak, noting that there was, ‘Scum on top of the water, black sludge on streambed. Lots of flies on the surface of the water. Unusual gray algae on the stream bed,’” Harbert added. “This observation was instrumental in identifying and stopping a sewage spill.”
That was in 2011. Fountain remembers the incident. “My daughter and I, on one of our routine trips back, we found a sewage spill that had occurred upstream of us. Adopt-A-Stream is very good about giving us all the contact numbers that we need to use, so we reported that immediately, and we were able to get that capped before too much had spilled,” he said.
When it comes to volunteer longevity, Harbert said Fountain is at the top of his class. “There are a dozen or so who have monitored for 10 plus years, but none can match David’s record,” he said.
Just months after Fountain hit the 20-year mark, officials with Georgia Adopt-A-Stream this past March recognized Fountain by giving him the Excellence in Data Collection award at Confluence, the organization’s annual conference, held at the Environmental and Heritage Center in Buford.
In addition to his dedication to the organization, officials cited the significant creek conditions his monitoring highlighted, from that 2011 sewage spill to the effects of road salt washing into the creek after that year’s snowstorm. His data also captured the effects of droughts in 2000 and 2008.
Fountain said his trophy came in the form of a rock painted with the Adopt-A-Stream logo and his name. The trophy format is thanks to the Chattahoochee River’s name, which roughly translates to “River of the painted rocks.”
After 20-plus years of monitoring the creek nearby, Fountain said he plans to continue his work as long as he and his family reside in their home.
“To me, a healthy creek is really a magical place for animals and people,” he said.
“There are so many different animals that you’ll encounter back at the creek—all of the fish and the frogs, but then there are the animals along the sides—the turtles, the crayfish and all the birds that are attracted to the water.”
For more information on Georgia Adopt-A-Stream, visit www.GeorgiaAdoptAStream.org.
–By Jon Gargis