The postcard setting of an old-fashion swimming hole situated in southern DeKalb County may not be such an idyllic place to escape the summer heat. DeKalb county employees have recently installed signs along the South River stating that access to the waterway is prohibited and that violators will be prosecuted.
On Monday, July 26, signs were erected warning visitors to not enter the waterway. DeKalb’s Deputy Chief Operating Officer for Infrastructure Ted Rhinehardt said “people were using it for purposes that it was not intended for.” The site has been developed to support the bike path that runs along the river’s edge, according to Rhinehardt.
Nearby resident and former candidate for sheriff Geraldine Champion said the newly installed signs are not enough to deter people from entering the water. She is concerned about people using the river and beach area being exposed to contaminated water. Champion said she spends two to three hours each day at the park warning people of the potential hazards. “I’m trying to save my community, we have a problem here,” she said.
Champion and area resident Rovella Albrittion said the park and river are often crowded with people, particularly on weekends. Albritton, who said she walks the maintained path on a regular basis, said that on the morning of July 28 the smell along the riverbank was “an awful stench.”
Both Champion and Albrittion are concerned for the safety of those who come in contact with the water. They both expressed concern with the sand and pathways leading from the parking area along the river’s edge. Champion said, “The sand was put here to make the river inviting” and that when she approaches people to warn them of the pollution they often “look dismayed.”
Rhinehardt said the sand along the river bank is naturally occurring and the county on occasion removes sand from the site and uses it at a landfill. He also said that there are “unintended consequences of a property with a natural sandbar” and that the public is not encouraged to swim in the river.
Tim Cash of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division confirmed that the South River was last tested by the organization in 2009 as part of a routine five-year rotation cycle and that to his knowledge the EPD has not recently issued any type of warnings about water quality in the South River.
Cash did, however, confirm that the South River does appear on the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s impaired waters list. The river was listed in the early ‘90s because it did not meet standards and tested positive for fecal chloroform. Cash cautioned that “any time people come in contact with natural water sources, there’s always a potential of exposure to contaminants.” He also stressed that watershed contamination is highest during or after major storm events that can cause runoff from pastures and overflowing septic systems.
According to trails.com, a Web site specializing in outdoor information and resources, the South River originates around the state Capitol in downtown Atlanta and is fed by a series of sewage and storm water systems before it flows through DeKalb, Rockdale and Newton counties and ultimately into Lake Jackson. However, georgiariverfishing.com said on it’s Web site that the condition of the South River has “improved markedly” in the past 10 years.