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The Oconee River is a 220-mile-long (350 km) river which has its origin in Hall County, Georgia, and terminates where it joins the Ocmulgee River to form the Altamaha River near Lumber City at the borders of Montgomery County, Wheeler County, and Jeff Davis County. South of Athens, two forks, known as the North Oconee River and Middle Oconee River, converge to form the Oconee River. Milledgeville, the former capital city of Georgia, lies on the Oconee River.
The Oconee River Greenway trail along the Oconee River in Milledgeville opened in 2008 and the North Oconee River Greenway section of the trail is in Athens, Georgia. J.W. McMillan (brick manufacturer)'s brick factory was located along the river.
The Oconee River passes through the Oconee National Forest into Lake Oconee, a man made lake, near the towns of Madison and Greensboro off Interstate 20. From Lake Oconee, the river travels to Lake Sinclair, another manmade lake in Milledgeville, the town founded on Georgia's fall line and former state capital. South of Milledgeville, the river flows unobstructed and later merges with the Ocmulgee River to form the Altamaha River. Along the river there are many sandbars and oxbow lakes while the forest bottomland swamp surrounding the Oconee extends for miles, creating a very remote setting.
"Oconee" is the Anglicized form of the Hitchiti word Okvni, which means "born from water" or "living on water." This branch of the Creek was historically also referred to as the Ocute, the name used by the Spanish chroniclers of the Hernando de Soto Expedition in 1540, who transliterated the Hitchiti word Okvte. Okvte means "Water People." According to Oconee-Creek tradition, their original homeland was in the Okefenokee Swamp of southeastern Georgia. A branch of the Oconee still lived in this vast expanse of wetlands during the 1600s, when it was nominally under the domain of Spain. Most of the Oconee Creek's traditional territory and towns were in present-day northeastern Georgia, northwestern South Carolina and in the Great Smoky Mountains. Colonists adopted the name of the local people for the Oconaluftee River in the Great Smoky Mountains; in the Hitchiti language, Oconaluftee means "separated Oconee people."
Fecal coliform bacteria
One of the main sources of pollution comes from fecal coliform bacteria, several species of bacteria found in human and animal feces. Fecal coliform bacteria enter the river through a number of sources; stormwater runoff leaving farmlands, stormwater runoff carrying pet waste, leaking septic and sewer lines contaminating surface or groundwater, and sewer spills throughout the watershed. Fecal coliform bacteria can be deadly to humans if ingested or acquired through an open wound. Fish caught in the Oconee Basin may be eaten if cooked thoroughly.
The second biggest form of pollution in the river is fertilizer. Nitrogen in fertilizer in the form of nitrates or ammonia, measured in parts per million, is found in regularly collected samples. These forms of nitrogen stimulate abundant growth of algae in the water. The effect is twofold:
- The water becomes murkier from the algae growing in it. This inhibits sunlight's path to the bottom of the river and destroys naturally occurring plant life at the bottom of the ecosystem.
- The algae eventually die and rot in the water; as they decompose, they pull oxygen out of the water, killing fish, especially large ones. This affects other wildlife, including birds, dependent on the fish and the river for survival.
The third largest source of pollution (?) is sedimentation, typically caused by construction and urbanization. Loose soil washes away with rainwater, clouding the river and eventually settling to the bottom at a faster rate than the river can naturally carry it away. This reduces clarity in the same way as the algal growth. In addition, the buildup of the bottom reduces the depth of the water, affecting flow and raising the temperature of the river, stressing the ecosystem.
- U.S. Geological Survey. National Hydrography Dataset high-resolution flowline data. The National Map, accessed April 21, 2011
- Oconee River Greenway
- Georgia Environmental Protective Division; Georgia Department of Natural Resources. Fish Consumption Guidelines http://gaepd.org/Documents/fish_guide.html